Varla Jean Merman and Leslie Jordan
in Lucky Guy
(© Joan Marcus)
Varla Jean Merman and Leslie Jordan
in Lucky Guy
(© Joan Marcus)
Musicals don't get much frothier than Willard Beckham's Lucky Guy, now playing at the Little Shubert Theatre. And while this corny tuner has the potential to be a wearisome excursion into camp, it boasts a comic zestfulness that's as refreshing as a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer day and a heart as big as a stretch of a Midwestern plain, ultimately winning theatergoers' hearts and earning their laughter.

The show tells the lighter-than-air-story of how G.C Wright (Jim Newman) manages to save his tiny recording studio from being foreclosed on by his nasty used car magnate cousin Big Al (Leslie Jordan) thanks to a song called "Lucky Guy" -- a sure-fire hit that's been penned by Billy Ray Jackson (Kyle Dean Massey), who's come to Nashville to record it, having won a contest that G.C.'s company has sponsored.

Unfortunately (or fortunately as the case may be), Big Al gets wind of the tune,and schemes to steal the number away from the guys with the help of Miss Jeannie Jeannine (Varla Jean Merman), the Queen of Country music -- whose crown is showing its age.

Truth be told, it's a little rough to initially accept the show, which early on features a tap number (featuring energetic and often clever choreography by A.C. Ciulla) for a quartet of dancers scantily clad as Native Americans. (Costume designer William Ivey Long has his tongue firmly in his cheek throughout the show.) Moreover, Beckham's book may require some audience forbearance, particularly as romantic difficulties mount for Billy Ray and Wanda (Savannah Wise), G.C.'s secretary who conceived the contest.

Fortunately, audiences can revel in Massey's consistently charming turn as the fresh-off-the-bus tunesmith/crooner, Wise's sweet (and iron-lunged) portrayal of his lady love; the delightfully over-the-top Jordan and Merman; Newman's amusing turn as G.C., the one-time UPS delivery guy who's turned into a wannabe record producer, and Jenn Collella, who proves to be a mugging spitfire as G.C.'s longsuffering beautician girlfriend, Chickie. Special mention should also be made of Callan Bergmann, Xavier Cano, West Hart, and Joshua Woodie who play the Buckaroos, indefatigably providing singing and dancing backup throughout the musical.

It doesn't hurt that Beckham's also written a host of toe-tapping country western numbers that are fitted with lyrics that can be both heartfelt and punningly funny. Additionally, he's directed the production so that it moves like a house afire from beginning to end -- a task helped immeasurabaly by Rob Bissinger's fleetly moving scenic elements that evoke a sort of comic book vision of Nashville and its environs, including the 28-room trailer that Miss Jeannine proudly describes as her "Monument to Humility."