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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The more funny than villainous duo that's out to steal themselves a hit are Big Al Wright (Leslie Jordan) of Big Al's Used Cars of the Stars and Miss Jeannie Jeannine (Varla Jean Merman) who needs a hit to hold on to her title as Nashville's Country Western Queen. Big Al's song stealing scheme involves taking over his wannabe hit record producing cousin C. G. Wright's (Jim Newman) studio on which he holds the mortgage. When the several times reprised "Folks Makin' Money" is first heard, the singer is C.G. and the song is his declaration that he's not one of the "Folks makin' money/offa other folk's dreams/Looking for a fall guy to fall for their schemes". When Big Al and Jeannie reprise that song it's clear that they are exactly what C.G. is not.
Big Al and Miss Jeanie's sure-fire mark is the yodeling Oklahoma farm boy named Billy Ray Jackson (Kyle Dean Massey), the winner of a contest run by G.C. as a means to realize his dream of being hit record producer. Billy Ray's winning entry is a song titled, you guessed it, "Lucky Guy." And to add romance to the song-stealing plot, there's G. C.'s long-time girl friend Chicky Lay (Jenn Colella) and his secretary Wanda Clark (Savannah Wise), who turns out to be the one to bolster Billy Ray 's "I'm a lucky guy" refrain.
While billed as a new comedy, this enjoyable down-home tuner has actually been around for a while. The 1987 Dallas premiere (directed by Gerald Gutierrez and choreographed by Peter Gennaro) was followed by 5 more regional productions (the last with Godspped Musicals in 2009) and numberous book re-writes. But it's new to New York and and what's really new about it is the clever casting of that tiny bundle of laughs Leslie Jordan (best know as Beverly Leslie of Will & Grace) opposite the tall, big voiced drag queen Varla Jean Merman as Miss Jeannie. Beckham's colorful Nashville population also includes eight other performers all of whom are fine and dandy actors, singers and dancers. The show also has three new songs. Best of all, this new Lucky Guy is lucky enough to have costumer William Ivey Long, set designer Rob Bissinger and choreographer A. C. Ciulla on board to make the show an extravaganza of glitzy visual surprises that somehow make even the mostly so-so tunes and lyrics more flavorful.
The Little Shubert Theatre is a comfortable, big but not too big, venue on the block known as Theater Row. Unlike most Off-Broadway theaters, it's got an orchestra pit and a touch of elegance that's a perfect match for this small show (10 performers on stage, 10 musicians in the pit) with a big musical's production values.
Well suited to their roles in terms of the looks and skills called for as all the performers are, it's William Ivey Long's sparkly, colorful costumes for everyone that are the show's superstar attraction. Ivy Long outdoes himself for Miss Jeannie who gets nineteen costume changes, each wittier than the one before.
The first of Miss Jeannie's eye-popping outfits is a magnificent rhinestone studded blue jean Cinderella gown in which she rises up from the ground to join the dressed to match Buckaroos for "Blue Jean Blues." This number about disappointed love turns into a spirit rallying sing-along and reveals the secret of her effortless gliding and spinning around the stage as she morphs like a Russian matryoshka doll from Cinderella to the sexy author of a book about her rise to Queen of Country Music.
Other memorable creations include a fabulous concoction for "Louis From Kahului" which has Jeannie erupting from a smoking volcano as a Polynesian princess with a headdress reminiscent of the old B-Movies' dazzling Brazilian bombshell, Carmen Miranda (though Ms. Miranda would be amazed to see what Jeannie does with the banana of her headdress). For the unsurprisingly happy ending, Jeanine's costume provides a surprise which I won't reveal here.
As Jeannie pops on to the stage and from one costume into another, so Big Al also has a way of bursting forth from unexpected places like a file cabinet. Scenic designer Rob Bissinger's Nashville street where we first meet the various dreamers and schemers adds to the overall visual feel of a life sized pop up book that also takes us to the Grand Ole Oprey stage, Jeanine's dressing room, the Wigateria where Chicky works, G.C.'s office.
At at time when bad things keep happening to good people, you could do a lot worse than watch destructive schemes crash, a villainess turn heroine, and a potential victim really become " a lucky guy." And if the songs aren't exactly all top of the charts numbers, this talented cast makes them dance-able fun.