Going into the performance of “I Love Lucy, Live On Stage” I must admit, my expectations were not very high.
It turns out that may have been to my advantage, as I felt the show was a fun, well-executed tribute to the beloved TV program.
The show is set as though the audience is viewing a behind-the-scenes taping of two episodes of “I Love Lucy” at the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.
The set is complete with an “Applause” sign, two cameras, commercial breaks and a host, Maury Jasper (Mark Christopher Tracy).
While a unique approach, it didn’t quite give the show the edge it needed.
Most of the script of the show was taken, albeit abridged a bit, from the original TV program so this “behind-the-scenes” theme was where the show could be a bit more original.
They attempted this by incorporating commercial bits, a musical number and a trivia game, but it still felt a little stale.
Now, I love the 1950s and enjoyed the nostalgia the show had, but whether from the actors or the audience, I wanted the material to be made fun of a bit more.
This happened a few times, particularly in moments with chorus member Denise Moses.
In one “commercial,” Moses played the spokesperson for “Dorothy Day Night Cream.” She boasted about the night cream that would make handsome men want to date you, saying that it was strong enough to remove radioactive dirt. A fact proven by smearing radioactive dirt on a model’s face and using a Geiger counter to see if cream did indeed remove it. (It did.)
This was a perfect combination of 1950s culture and 2015 humor. I enjoyed the way the commercial stayed true to a product that was popular during that time, but poked fun at how ridiculous the sentiments around it were.
Moses did this in other moments, such as when she was “Speedy” the Alka-Seltzer Elf or an avid fan from Oklahoma.
The commercials were all for real products, or items that emulated real products, of the 1950s, but not all had that self-incriminating humor.
More than once during the show, I caught myself laughing at a lyric in a jingle only to realize that, unlike the Gieger counter bit, these were the real lyrics of the song because other audience members were singing along.
These bits added some color to the show and were a cute way to fill the time, but most felt like just that – a time-filler between episodes.
The episode part of the show, however, was much more consistent.
As Euriamis Losada, the actor that plays Ricky Ricardo said, “We aim to deliver the same nostalgic experience audiences have with the show but in a live theatrical presentation. The goal is to make people believe they were actually there watching these beloved characters come to life.”
The episodes chosen were “The Benefit” and “Lucy Gets Her Eyes Checked.”
Avid “I Love Lucy” fans may be familiar with those episodes, but anyone with just a passing knowledge of the show wouldn’t remember, or likely have even seen, these episodes. (Spoken as someone with just a passing knowledge of the show).
While some may wish the more popular episodes were chosen, I believe this worked to the show’s advantage.
It was easier to envision the actors on stage as the iconic Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz when the scripts were lesser known.
Taking on the roles of such iconic performers was not an easy task and one, as Losada noted, that could go wrong very quickly.
“Everyone has an idea of what Ricky sounded and acted like and it’s my responsibility to deliver a performance that satisfies that nostalgia while still playing him as a full 360° flesh and blood human being and not a caricature,” Losada said.
It should be noted that both Thea Brooks (Lucy Ricardo) and Losada did a fantastic job of looking and sounding like the characters.
There is only so much that an actor can do to truly become another person, especially one so well-known. But Brooks and Losada did an almost flawless job.
Losada, being of Cuban decent, was able to emulate Arnaz’s speech patterns almost perfectly. From struggling with tense (‘Nice to met you.’) to the famous ‘splainin’ pronunciation, Losada brought Arnaz back to life.
Brooks also did a phenomenal job of taking on the task of impersonating Ball. While not identical, but who could be, Brooks had the nasal quality and quick-whip of Ball.
Brooks also played up the physical comedy that Ball made so famous.
The pair worked well together, looked the part and did a wonderful job with an extremely difficult task.
The actors that played Fred and Ethel Mertz were entertaining and fit the part somewhat, but didn’t quite nail it. But, the foursome on stage had the same chemistry as in the foursome in the show, so it despite being a tad off it certainly felt as though you were watching the original team.
The show is enjoyable, for super fans and occasional watchers alike, and is a fun way to remember a beloved show. However, if you miss it, you won’t have any ‘splainin’ to do to me.
“I Love Lucy®, Live On Stage” is open now through Sunday, Jan. 25 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. Tickets cost #$39 to $99. For more information on show times and tickets, visit the State Theatre online.