Baby Talk Zaps ‘Knickerbocker’; ‘Lucky Guy’ Camps It Up: Review

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Photographer: Carol Rosegg/Public Theater via Bloomberg

Bob Dishy and Alexander Chaplin in the play "Knickerbocker."

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Photographer: Carol Rosegg/Public Theater via Bloomberg

Bob Dishy and Alexander Chaplin in the play "Knickerbocker." Close

Bob Dishy and Alexander Chaplin in the play "Knickerbocker."

Photographer: Carol Rosegg/Public Theater via Bloomberg

Ben Shenkman and Alexander Chaplin in "Knickerbocker," written by Jonathan Marc Sherman and directed by Pippin Parker, a Public LAB production running through May 29. Close

Ben Shenkman and Alexander Chaplin in "Knickerbocker," written by Jonathan Marc Sherman and directed by Pippin... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

Leslie Jordan and Varla Jean Merman in the musical comedy "Lucky Guy." Close

Leslie Jordan and Varla Jean Merman in the musical comedy "Lucky Guy."

Photographer: Joan Marcus/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

Savannah Wise and Kyle Dean Massey in the musical comedy "Lucky Guy" by Willard Beckham at the Little Shubert Theatre in New York. Close

Savannah Wise and Kyle Dean Massey in the musical comedy "Lucky Guy" by Willard Beckham at the Little Shubert Theatre in New York.

Pauline and Jerry are expecting their first child, a boy. They’re nervous. That pretty much sums up the situation in Jonathan Marc Sherman’s situation comedy, “Knickerbocker.”

And “labored” pretty much sums up the comedy in this well-meaning but airlessly predictable play, attractively presented in the Public Theater’s low-price Lab series (all tickets are $15).

Sherman -- still best known for his play “Women & Wallace,” which began at the Public -- has a draftsman’s skill at sketching contemporary characters but less success in fleshing them out.

“Knickerbocker” is set (nicely, if sparsely by Peter Ksander) at a circular booth in the popular Greenwich Village restaurant of that name, where Jerry (Alexander Chaplin) struggles to work out his anxiety over impending fatherhood with a succession of tablemates beginning and ending with Pauline (Mia Barron).

That includes the inevitable ex-girlfriend who still has a thing for him; the been-there-done-that best friend who knows what Jerry is about to go through; the other best friend, a stoner, who warns Jerry about -- well, I won’t tell you what he warns Jerry about, but it’s not very nice of him.

And then there’s Jerry’s father, Raymond, who honestly would rather be discussing his sex life. He’s played by the stage and film veteran Bob Dishy with irresistible understatement and uncannily communicative eyebrows.

No wonder the pace of Pippin Parker’s deft production seems to slow up just a bit for Raymond’s scene. It feels like truth. (Jeremy Gerard)

Through May 29 at 425 Lafayette St. Information: +1-212- 967-7555; http://www.publictheater.org Rating: **

‘Lucky Guy’

Hats off to anyone who can enjoy “Lucky Guy,” a country and western musical featuring a drag queen, a diminutive gay icon, and a story and score that could’ve been written over a long weekend.

“Lucky Guy” is billed as a new musical comedy, even though earlier versions were presented in Dallas in 1987, Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1999 and Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut in 2009. Willard Beckham -- who wrote the book, music, lyrics and directed -- deserves a special Obie Award for tenacity.

Catchy Tunes

Hunky cattleman Billy Ray Jackson (Kyle Dean Massey) arrives in Nashville from Oklahoma, the winner of Wright Track Records’ songwriting contest. His entry, “Lucky Guy” is simple and catchy, the best number among the show’s two dozen.

Big Al Wright (tiny Leslie Jordan, from television’s “Will & Grace”) is a used car dealer who promises to put Billy Ray on his television special starring washed-up country music legend Jeannie Jeannine (Varla Jean Merman).

Al secretly seeks to snatch the record company from a cousin and replace it with a car lot. Jeannie’s out to nab “Lucky Guy” from Billy Ray.

There’s also Chicky (Jenn Colella), a songwriter who works as a beautician at the Wigateria, a drive-through salon for the lady on the run. And four chorus boys who tap dance dressed as American Indians.

Massey and his love interest, Savannah Wise, are in fine voice. Merman, aka Jeffery Roberson, is so adept you may not realize she is a he until you read the Playbill. Costumes from William Ivey Long are suitably outlandish. Beckham directs his material with finesse.

The show and its silly puns and double entendres wasn’t for me. But if country and western camp holds an allure, then sashay over to the L’il Shubert Thee-ay-ter. (Philip Boroff)

Through July 24 at 422 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-239- 6200. http://luckyguythemusical.com Rating: *


What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Very Good
**          Average
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard and Philip Boroff are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

To contact the writers on this story: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net

Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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