The word "daunting" must have be spoken many times when the notion first arose to stage the most beloved television show of all time. After all, recreating not only performances of iconic stars that are etched into our collective memory, but to make us believe that we are catapulted back in time to a much simpler era, must on paper seem near impossible. Well, with the opening last night of I LOVE LUCY® LIVE ON STAGE, the creative team has accomplished that daunting task and given fans of the Red Head what could only be described as an out of body experience.
I LOVE LUCY® LIVE ON STAGE takes the audience to Desilu Studios at CBS in 1952 for the back-to-back tapings of the show in real time. With this concept, we get to see the work it takes to produce such a venture. From the audience warm up to on air commercials, watching the work unfold before your eyes is exhilarating, especially keeping in mind that fact the television itself was just in it's infancy.
Director Rick Sparks (who is also the co-adapter and staged the show) has kept many of the original cast members from the Los Angeles production, which had its premiere in October of 2011, and for the Chicago run, has included many local favorites. Sirena Irwin plays Lucy Ricardo (not Lucille Ball) and Bill Mendieta is her Cuban counterpart, Ricky (not Desi Arnaz). Both are equipped with great comic timing and also have cohesive on stage chemistry, which help make this venture more believable. Even though they actors are instantly limited in what they can do differently to these roles because of the audiences' memory, Ms. Irwin and Mr. Mendieta are able to break that barrier and deliver the lines at their own pace which makes the material work for them. Let's face it, there was only one Lucy and Desi and in doing a straight out imitation would first off, not work in a theatrical setting such as this, and second, would hinder any type of truth these actors could bring to the roles of playing the Ricardos.
Curtis Pettyjohn and Johanna Danliels as Fred and Ethel Mertz are stellar and illicit some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Ed Kross gets the audience warmed up as the Desilu Playhouse host who guides us through the taping of the two episodes (The Benefit & Lucy Gets Her Eye's Examined) and introduces the commercial sponsors, including Chevrolet and Alka-Seltzer as well as the Crystaltone Singers who harmonize the local chart toppers of the era. There is even a Lucy trivia contest where an audience member is selected to outwit an ensemble "Lucyphile"(the scene stealing Sara Sevigny).
The music is infectious, especially when Mr. Mendieta takes to the stage with the orchestra and belts out the familiar "El Cubancherro" "Babalu" and of course the engrained "I Love Lucy" theme song. Also, I LOVE LUCY® LIVE ON STAGE fits perfectly into the Broadway Playhouse as it seems to have been build for this show. This has always been a fantastic space and it is great to see it get used to its potential.
Broadway In Chicago has a fantastic season lined up and this is just the beginning. Seeing I LOVE LUCY® LIVE ON STAGE is a reminder of the genius that went into early television (3 camera filming was the brainchild of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball was the first female owner of a studio). It also lets us forget our troubles of the day and just hang out and relax with the people we have grown up with and relive the true Golden Age of Television.
I LOVE LUCY® LIVE ON STAGE plays though November 11, 2012 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut, Chicago. Tickets range from $23-$65 with a select number of premium seats available. Ticks are available at all Broadway in Chicago Box Offices, the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Kiosk at Water Tower Place; the Broadway In Chicago Tick Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at www.BroadwayinChicago.com
Fro groups of 15 or more call (312) 977-1710. For schedules and other calendar information, please visit www.theatreinchicago.com
Photo Credit: Ed Krieger