Friday, October 28, 2011

A Shining Love Letter: I LOVE LUCY Live on Stage


It was TV magic when CBS began airing black & white episodes of the I Love Lucy® show in the early 1950s. The lovable redhead known as Lucy Ricardo instantly won the hearts of millions of viewers who tuned in weekly to see her latest antics. Who can forget images of Lucy filming the Vitameatavegamin commercial, stomping grapes, working in the chocolate factory with Ethel, or doing her mirror routine with Harpo Marx?

Now a new adaptation of the show, I Love Lucy® Live on Stage, has come to the Greenway Court Theatre by co-adapters Rick Sparks, who also directs the production, and comedy writer Kim Flagg. It recreates the television taping of two episodes of the iconic series, The Benefit, and Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined, by a quartet of actors who seek not to mimic the original performances but instead honor the essence of The Ricardos and their next door neighbors, Fred and Ethel Mertz.

Sirena Irwin plays Lucy Ricardo and her resemblance to the famous redhead will certainly make you do a double take, styled to perfection as she is with Lucy’s signature red poodle hairstyle and knockout 50’s wardrobe. Credit for the outstanding vintage look of the show goes to Shon LeBlanc and Byron J. Batista for the costume and wig/makeup design, respectively. Irwin pouts and schemes her way through the scenes in typical “Lucy” fashion playing to her charming, and ever-tolerant husband Ricky (Bill Mendieta), who has his own comedic moments and time for plenty of the Cuban bandleader’s signature vocals – “Babalu” included.


Lucy’s sidekick Ethel (a terrific Lisa Joffrey), may have played second fiddle throughout the run of the show, but here she and husband Fred (Bill Chott) get to show off some of their own vaudevillian song and dance skills in “The Varsity Drag” sequence. Both capture the fine points of their characters beautifully.

As with any television show there are some hilarious commercial inserts by notable products of the day; Brylcream, Chevrolet and a dancing Alka Seltzer tablet among them, and musical numbers by The Crystal Tones – think “Glow Worm” in gorgeous six-part harmony. Those beautiful musical arrangements are brought to you courtesy of musical director Wayne Moore, who also leads the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra “live” at the Tropicana and highlighted by Cricket S. Myers' sound design.

Thanks to a top-notch ensemble the show actually begins outside the theatre as costumed cast members interact with the audience while waiting for the doors to open. One excited woman (Amy Tolsky) is just so gosh darned happy to be here that her infectious energy transfers to everyone around her.

Once inside, Aaron Henderson’s set design lit by Jeremy Pivnick welcomes you into the studio and Mark Christopher Tracy takes charge as the host of the show. Audience warm-up is an art and he’s got it down to a T. A few of the other character highlights include Ed Martin’s wildly entertaining turn as Lucy’s eye doctor, Greg Franklin as Broadway producer William Parker, and Tom Christensen as Lucy’s swingin’ jitterbug instructor King Katt Walsh, though it truly is a team effort and everyone in the cast has his or her chance to shine.

I Love Lucy® Live on Stage pays the highest compliment to its namesake sitcom by remaining true to the innocence of the original. In doing so, we the audience have the opportunity to experience a bit of what it was like in those early days when landing a joke was the loftiest of goals and wholesome entertainment was what the country craved. Fresh, lovely, and full of life, Sparks and company have truly created a shining love letter to the one and only first lady of comedy.

I Love Lucy® Live on Stage runs through December 30 at the Greenway Court Theatre. Click Here for tickets and more information.

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The original episodes of The Benefit and Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined were written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr. I Love Lucy® Live on Stage is brought to you by S. Kahn Presents and the Millrock Company. Executive producers are David George and Steve Kahn. Hyra George and Kim Flagg are producers.


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