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Who’s a “Lucky Guy”?

May 20th, 2011

Photo by Joan Marcus.

How do you know when your dream has come true?  Our heart’s desire often comes in unexpected forms or is sandwiched between two big slices of unintended consequences–with a heaping side of over-inflated expectations. So how do you know when what you’ve been wishing for has arrived?

Don’t worry, this is still a theater blog; you’ve not stumbled into Goop or some self-help Gobbledygook. My philosophical ramblings are a result of last night’s opening of the new Off-Broadway musical, Lucky Guy.

What got me asking these questions wasn’t the sweetly generic dreams (you know, the ones that rhyme with “seems”) that are found in the world of the show, a tumbleweed light lark about a country boy trying to get a hit record and the nefarious Nashville duo hoping to steal his song for themselves. No, the dream that fascinated me was Willard Beckham’s three-decade long odyssey to get his musical up on a stage in the Big Apple. Mr. Beckham has workshopped it and shopped it and written it and rewritten it for thirty years. He wrote the book, music and lyrics; he directed this production and, I’m told, he’s the understudy for the villainous country diva. It’s all Beckham, for richer or for poorer.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Certainly, along the way, he’s picked up some very impressive companions on the journey. He partnered with a producer, L. Glenn Poppleton, who has stuck by the musical’s side for 25 years and raised the kind of money that I’ve never seen on an Off-Broadway stage. He hired a technical team that includes the masterful William Ivey Long (eye-popping, laugh-generating costumes) and A. C. Ciulla (athletic and whirling choreography). He found a trooper of a cast that includes a slyly campy Leslie Jordan, witty Varla Jean Merman (in drag but walking the line between caricature and authenticity with aplomb), scene-stealing Jenn Colella, and honey-voiced leading man Kyle Dean Massey (who received a show stopping round of gasps when he took off his shirt to reveal that it’s not just his voice that’s sweet). He even rounded up the cutest, gamest four-man ensemble of back-up Buckaroos and convinced them to dance in little more than loin clothes for one number.

The show they’ve come together for, it moseys and warbles and wobbles and then makes you laugh. And there are wigs. Big wigs. You’ll either be pleasantly entertained or roll your eyes depending on your tastes.

In this case, though, I don’t much care what the reviews say or whether it runs or disappears. What matters is that there are dreamers like Mr. Beckham out there plugging away, either reaching for genius or just trying to get that little sequin and cardboard fantasy out of their heads and onto a page. It’s sweet and brave and human…kind of like a musical. Last night, Beckham’s dream came true, whatever the New York Times or a bunch of internet gossips say about his show (though they’ve been kinder than I’d have thought). In our cynical, fame-obsessed culture, it strikes me that there’s something magical and slightly mad in what he accomplished. I hope he realized the moment had arrived and felt like a real lucky guy. Congratulations, Willard.

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