Friday, November 14, 2014

Theatrical Time Travel: I Love Lucy Live On Stage

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I Love Lucy Live On Stage seems like a weird concept for a theatrical show: recreate two episodes of the classic sitcom with performers imitating the iconic characters of Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel. These are, after all, shows anyone with an internet connection can watch any time they want, not performances lost in time forever.

But luckily, Lucy Live is more than just the mimicking of a classic. Instead, it's a little bit of theatrical time travel. The show is presented as it would be in the early 1950's: the audience is there to see the recording of two "I Love Lucy" episodes, complete with a host; a quartet of singers performing live between-act commercials and musical standards; and even a tourist from Oklahoma named Birdie Mae Figg, (really actress Denise Moses), who makes her way through the audience before the curtain goes up, seeking autographs from all the movie stars she sees. (Apparently, I'm an actress famous for her work in Westerns; I gladly gave her my autograph.)

The show is presented without an intermission, but with a slight break between episodes, featuring a trivia contest between two audience members. (Well, one audience member and Birdie Mae Figg.) The first episode is "The Benefit" in which Ethel asks Lucy to ask Ricky to perform at a benefit held by her women's club. Lucy, of course, wants in on the act, and insists she be included in the show. The second episode is "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined" wherein Lucy, once again, hopes to break into show business by auditioning for a Broadway producer friend of Ricky's, but an eye exam leaves her hopelessly blind during her jitterbug audition.

An obvious question would be why they didn't choose much more memorable episodes to recreate, like Vetameatavegamin, or Lucy stomping grapes. I think one factor may be it's easier to accept the actors and their imitations when they aren't doing things you've seen many times before. Also, these episodes require only two sets: their apartment, and the Tropicana club, both of which fit on the stage. (Although the Tropicana is a little cramped.)

Thea Brooks doesn't look or sound exactly like Lucy, but makeup and hair go a long way to create the illusion. And she can definitely dance a blind jitterbug, and sing as badly as the real thing. Euriamis Losada looks even less like Ricky, (he's much more handsome), and he actually sings a little better than the real Ricky, too. But the Cuban accent is spot on. ("Lucy! You have some 'splaining to do!")

Also spot on is Lori Hammel's Ethel. Ethel's is not the easiest voice to mimic, but close your eyes and you'll swear that's her on stage. It's a shame they didn't pick episodes that were a little more Lucy and Ethel-centric.

The show is definitely lively; the minute you get a little tired of the Lucy shenanigans, they break for a commercial, which include "Dinah Beach" (Sarah Elizabeth Combs) singing the Chevrolet song, and a visit from Speedy the Alka Seltzer boy (Denise Moses again), among other surprises. The costumes are also terrific, full of brightly colored new look dresses, and broad shouldered suits.

I'm not sure how appealing the show would be for the younger set, let alone someone who's never even seen an episode of "I Love Lucy." But those with a love of all things mid-century and a soft spot for nostalgia will probably love Lucy all over again.

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