On Wednesday, the producers of the new Off-Broadway musical Lucky Guy announced that the show would be closing this coming Sunday, May 29th, after only 14 regular performances and 23 previews. The show was originally scheduled to run until the end of July.
The closing announcement came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I was scheduled to see the show that very night. Which means I got to see the cast perform the show just after they had heard that, as of Sunday, they would be out of work. It's a credit to the talented cast members that they never for a second indicated that anything had been awry.
I wish that I could say that the show itself was getting a bum rap, but alas I cannot. It's not that Lucky Guy is bad, it's just that the piece, at least on paper, is unremarkable. The plot, concerning a Nashville neophyte and the various colorful characters he encounters, is not all that inspired, and the songs are generic and bland, with the exception of the catchy title song. And the show's humor is pretty corn-ball, trafficking in puns and lame one-liners.
At first glance, it might appear that the director came in and saw that the piece itself wasn't going to work on its own merits, so he decided that the show's only chance was to camp it up. So the production team pasted on two inherently campy stars: Leslie Jordan and Varla Jean Merman. Then, to further entice the gay audience, they cast the stunningly handsome Kyle Dean Massey in the lead, and filled out the cast with four pretty-boy chorus members (Xavier Cano, Callan Bergmann, Wes Hart, and Joshua Woodie) who frequently appear scantily clad throughout the show.
There's only one problem with my theory: the director wrote the show. Lucky Guy features music, book, lyrics, and direction by Willard Beckham, a one-time Broadway performer featured in some of the more obscure curiosities of the 1970s (Lorelei, Something's Afoot, The Utter Glory of Morrisey Hall). Perhaps Beckham himself realized that an earnest presentation for Lucky Guy wasn't really going to work, but the fun seems pasted on, and the production fails to exhibit that certain extra spark of life that a show needs for an Off-Broadway life. There are some moderately clever staging elements, but they tend to be one-joke and the laughs don't sustain through the songs.
The cast is certainly game and talented, particularly Massey and Jenn Colella, who is absolutely terrific as Chicky Lay, crafting a layered and dynamic characterization and exhibiting sharp comic delivery. And, in truth, Varla Jean and Leslie Jordan almost save the show, but there's really only so much they can do with the soggy material. Despite Beckham's high-octane pacing, Lucky Guy gets sorta dull after a while, and it's a short while.
This was my first time seeing a show at the Little Shubert Theater, and it's really a great space. It's unfortunate that the theater can't seem to find a long-term tenant. (Recent short-lived occupants have included Viagara Falls, Dracula, and Captain Louie.) Perhaps the Shuberts should consider leasing the venue to a not-for-profit group that can create regular rotating programming. It seems a shame to let such a terrific space lie fallow for so much of the time, although the theater does have a booking for the fall, Afraid of the Dark. Can this anonymously penned new thriller break the Little Shubert curse?