Leslie Jordan in Lucky Guy
(© courtesy of the company)
Leslie Jordan in Lucky Guy
(© courtesy of the company)
Leslie Jordan has been making audiences laugh for over 20 years, most notably as the viperish Beverly Leslie on NBC's Will & Grace, for which he won the Emmy Award, and his hilarious one-man show, My Trip Down the Park Carpet. Now, Jordan is showing off more than his comedic skills in the new Off-Broadway musical, Lucky Guy at the Little Shubert Theatre, in which he plays crusty, conniving car dealer Big Al. TheaterMania recently spoke with Jordan about the challenges and joys of doing this show.

THEATERMANIA: Has this been a very different kind of experience for you?
LESLIE JORDAN: Absolutely. I have been doing my own thing for years now with my solo show. I've never been part of a six-week rehearsal process. I've never been known for being a team player, but I've adjusted to being part of a big cast and it has worked out beautifully. I have to admit the first day when I got to Ripley-Grier Studios for rehearsal, I heard the tap shoes tapping and the people vocalizing, and it took me back to college. My theater professor once said to me "Leslie, you are capable of genuine artistry but you're the laziest actor I know. And yes, you can make people laugh, but you're going to become a parody of yourself and end up in Hollywood if you're not careful." And he's right, I did all of that. So it's amazing to be part of a theater community again.

TM: You're actually now part of a musical theater community. Was that always something you wanted?
LJ: I always thought I'd be good at musicals, and it turns out I make up for my lack of skill with enthusiasm.

TM: You also get to dance a little. Has that been fun?
LJ: Yes, but remember I'm 56. One day in rehearsal, I went over to our four beautiful chorus boys and I said to them, "I don't think I stretch enough, could someone come help me stretch." And they thought I was hitting on them! But the truth is, stretching is the key to be able to do this every night.

TM: Big Al seems to fit your personality perfectly. Was this script written for you?
LJ: No, Willard Beckham, our playwright and director, wrote this show 30 years ago. I think Faith Prince played the role of Chickie once, and I know Christopher Sieber played my part in a reading. But when I read the script, it did seem tailored for me. I haven't asked to see any earlier drafts; I'm afraid it would confuse me.

TM: Speaking of tailoring, you -- and everyone in the show -- have the most amazing costumes. And lots of them! Tell me about these outfits.
LJ: William Ivey Long has pulled in favors from people he's known for over 20 years. It's amazing. Varla Jean Verman, who plays Miss Jeannie, has 19 costume changes. And have you seen me? William tracked down the granddaughter of the great designer, Nudie, who did Elvis' gold lame suit and lots of stuff for people like Dolly Parton. I used to go to Nudie's tailor shop in Los Angeles and stay there all day like it was a museum. Anyway, with the help of this amazing seamstress named Jennifer Love, we replicated Nudie's suits in colors like silver, lime green, and yellow. There isn't a rhinestone left in New York!

TM: Are you enjoying working with Varla Jean Merman?
LJ: Varla and I have known each for other for years; we often work the gay circuit -- Provincetown, Key West, San Francisco -- at the same time. But here we're sharing the dressing room and we've really bonded! We're both Southern and both grew up in a Baptist church. And working with Varla is a lot like working with Megan Mullally on Will & Grace. Neither of them are really into preparation; they like to just get out there and say the words. With both of them, it's like playing verbal ping-pong. And I love that.