If you've read my column lately, you might notice it's been a tad Lucy-centric, so imagine my delight when I recently had the opportunity to chat with the cast of 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage', I jumped at the chance so quick, you'd think I was Lucy Ricardo trying to sneak her way into Ricky's show at The Tropicana. This weekend marks the final Nashville performance of the current National Tour of the show at Nashville's TPAC. As Music City bids a fond farewell to Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel, I thought I'd share my conversations with their on-stage counterparts, Bill Mendieta, Sirena Irwin, Kevin Remington and Joanna Daniels before they head out to continue the funny foursome's zany road trip at theatres across the U.S. What follows is a rare expanded installment of my recurring celebrity interview format RAPID FIRE 20 Q . They were all so much fun answering my questions, I just couldn't limit myself to 20.
First up is my chat with Bill Mendieta who is mesmerizing as Cuban bandleader and husband Ricky Ricardo to show-biz-obsessed Lucy Ricardo.
JONATHAN PINKERTON: In preparing for my chat with you I learned that you grew up in San Francisco in a family with a somewhat mixed-bag of Latin roots. Can you tell me a little about your family background?
BILL MENDIETA: Mendieta is a Basque name, with roots in the Pyrenees mountains of Spain and France. My parents were both born in San Francisco. On my dad’s side, his mom was from Mexico and his father’s family had settled in Peru. On my mom’s side, her mom was from Guatemala and her father was from Spain.
JP: Of course both the fictional Ricky Ricardo and his real-life creator, Desi Arnaz are decidedly Latin, hailing from Cuba. Coming from a background rich with Latin blood, were you exposed to much Latin music or actors as a kid?
BILL MENDIETA: My family was very musical. My parents loved music and dancing and encouraged us kids to learn a musical instrument and dance as well. Growing up with three boys and three girls in the family, we always had dancing partners at weddings and parties and had music of all different styles continually playing in the house. My family loved classic movies and classic TV shows like Zorro, Star Trek, Mission Impossible and I Love Lucy. I remember my grandmother enjoyed Cantinflas and his movies, as well as Charlie Chaplin, Benny Hill, and Lucy - she loved to laugh, and enjoyed physical comedy. I also remember my dad would often be singing while he was working in the house. He reminded me of a combination of Guy Williams’ Zorro and Desi Arnaz. Though he didn’t have an accent, the awareness of his Latin roots were strong. And for myself, as a third generation American, my cultural awareness may have been watered down a bit, but it was still present growing up.
JP: While it would be daunting indeed to simply mimic Ricky Ricardo and his real-life originator, Desi Arnaz, I love that that's not the goal if this show, but rather for you and your co-stars to maintain the essence of the classic, but at the same time offer a fresh spin and your own interpretation. How do you achieve that balance?
BILL MENDIETA: There are certain things we have to hit for audiences to suspend their disbelief and join us on the ride of this show. We aren’t Desi, Lucille, Viv, and Bill but we can project the essences of the characters they created through the timbre of our voices, our bodies, and certain characteristics that have become key in this show’s canon: Fred’s grumpiness, curmudgeonly, and key one-liners, Ethel’s helpful and earnest friendship and co-conspirator in Lucy’s schemes, Lucy’s child like ambition and optimism, as well as her “ewww” and other Lucy-isms and of course her willingness to go to extreme to get what she wants, and Ricky’s intelligence, charm, joy of performing, mispronunciation of certain English words, and his frustration of Lucy’s antics, of which he can’t help but be amused too, because he indeed loves her. And as we’re not impersonators, but actors, our focus is to be authentic in the moments of the situations and breathe life into these characters, so there is room to do Ricky Ricardo as what I bring to it. My job was to get these core elements and let it live through my instrument - my body, voice, thoughts and emotions, and simply do the role and be in the story. I think whenever anyone performs a role that is in the public consciousness, we must embrace our likenesses and our differences to that original, and dare to create something new and authentic, and give our audience comfort and confidence in us as we bring them through a journey.
JP: When this journey began, did you have any idea just how many people really do Love Lucy, Ricky, Fred & Ethel?
BILL MENDIETA: I had no idea how many people still really loved these Fab Foursome. I knew the TV series was popular, and some people still love it to this day but I was shocked when we first put it up in Los Angeles at a little theater and learned that people flocked from all over the country to see it, and a few from Canada and overseas, and that it drew audiences and repeat audiences in Chicago and now on our North American tour. It is a testament to the original material and the creators of the series. The “I Love Lucy” show is still on the air, and it is still funny. I am no longer surprised but honored that we are able to give this show to audiences and rekindle and celebrate their love for these characters and the material.
JP: Before being cast in I Love Lucy Live on Stage, you've acted and directed in everything from Shakespeare to my favorite daytime drama, Days of Our Lives. I know versatile actors get ask this question all the time, but I always love the variety of responses....what's more challenging to you, drama or comedy....and why?
BILL MENDIETA: I like both comedy and drama at different times and both have certain challenges but I would have to go with the challenge of comedy because I get to have that immediate response in laughter which let’s me know if I am successful or not in the material. If I get the laughs, it is so joyous, and if I don’t, it seems worse than death. And so my responsibility is to be authentic with the character, situation and technique of sitcom and comedy, and don’t expect the laugh yet be ready if it happens. If laughs are there, great. If they’re not there, at least I’m being authentic in that moment. But if it’s timed right, I can achieve the authenticity of the moment, and the audience can have that opportunity to release in their laughter - a win-win situation.
JP: Ok, I'm gonna resist asking you how it was to act opposite DAYS' super villain Stefano Dimera played by Joseph Mascolo and instead stay on task and ask...as you prepare to take the stage, is it hair, makeup, wardrobe, voice, a combination of all or something else that you feel when you've achieved the essence of Ricky Ricardo?
BILL MENDIETA: Well, I’ll give you this: working on DAYS was fun, and I did have Joseph Mascolo in my scenes when I appeared there, and he’s a very kind, professional actor. As Soap work is quick, everyone is extremely prepared, the atmosphere is easy going and everyone does they’re respective parts well to create that daily entertainment....The essence of Ricky Ricardo? Yes to your question - all of the above. Before I get on stage, I must adjust my hair and make up to get that Ricky Ricardo look. Getting into the stylish clothes of the era helps with the physicality too - with nice period suits, an Eisenhauer jacket, tux or smoking jacket - the clothes do indeed help make the man. Sure, also the voice is crucial to this character - the Cuban accent and rhythms as I speaks English, and the Spanish with the Cuban rhythms and pronunciation. I also discovered the musicality of this Cuban bandleader is very key. On the Tropicana stage with the band is where Ricky is king, and jamming with the band and entertaining and charming the audience is a lot of fun. Before this role, I considered myself to simply be an actor who can sing and move well. In being Ricky Ricardo, I committed to being a singer and as I got more and more familiar with the music of that time period with singing standards and latin classics, and I found a love for this music. And this musicality is in the body, and so I discovered also a joy for dancing salsa, swing, tango, etc.
JP: As you mention, a big part of Ricky/Desi was his accent. After having played the role in both Chicago and LA productions, winning a broadwayworld.com award, and now taking it on tour, do you ever lapse into Ricky's dialect in your off time?
BILL MENDIETA: There has been a few times in conversations where some people have laughed and said “You sounded like Ricky there,” on a phrase or two, or there may have been a moment or a sentence I thought would sound funnier in Ricky’s accent, but now after doing this show for over 400 performances since its inception back in LA, It is easy to only do Ricky when I have to and be me on the day to day life.
JP: Is it true your co-star Kevin Remington, who brings to life William Frawley's Fres Mertz in I Love Lucy Live on Stage, is much more fluent in Spanish than you? When I chatted with him, I asked him to interpret what Ricky says when he's upset with Lucy...Has he taught you anything you can share?
BILL MENDIETA: The speaking of languages is always better when introduced early in our lives. Yes, Kevin is more fluent than I am as he grew up in Mexico, and can go from Spanish to English effortlessly. I grew up in San Francisco, a third generation American, and English was my family’s first language, and my parents rarely spoke Spanish. But my grandmother did and taught my siblings and I some, and I learned with the high school curriculum, but it wasn’t until I travelled in Spain, Mexico and Peru that I learned more practical Spanish and could hold conversations. As it has always been an effort to have my Spanish exercised enough to speak it confidently, with this show I received coaching with my Spanish so I don’t sound too much like a gringo speaking and singing in Spanish. And Kevin has shared his experiences surprising people with his fluency as his look belies it - seeing a Fred Mertz type speak fluent Spanish is pretty cool.
JP: Something the stage version does to transport the audience back to the 1950s and being at a live taping of I Love Lucy is the inclusion of retro-looking cameras on stage and 'commercial breaks'. Desi was instrumental in creating the three-camera technique used by most modern sitcoms. Is there a moment between scenes in which we get to see you and your co-stars as the real-life legends Lucille, Desi, William and Vivian and therefore learn a little 'behind the scenes' about Desi's astute business sense or Lucille's meticulous attention to detail?
BILL MENDIETA: As our production is a ‘love letter’ to “I Love Lucy” and classic television, and our concept is to give an audience a taste of what it might have been like then to witness an actual filming of the show, we do show what happens in between the scripted scenes - as cameras are re-set, make-up adjusted, costumes changed, insert shots executed - and so the audience does get a glimpse and a taste of what it might have been like on the set and in those moments. In sitcom tapings of today, we don’t know the details of the relationships of the people on the sets but we can see some dynamics of what is going on and make our own assessments. In theatre, the audience gets the whole stage to view and assess and interpret, so in our show we present the actors and crew on a TV set as they are all doing their jobs. You may be able to interpret things you see of what we do and of what our positions in this production allows. Rick Sparks, our director, left many of these moments subtle and open enough for a number of interpretations to give people something to see if they choose to, yet not to take away from the focus of the show.
JP: I understand that the producers of your show have the rights to all 179 original episodes. I love that the two episodes recreated in the stage show include both the musical aspect of the show as well as the classic comedy element. I think 'Sally Sweet/Cuban Pete' from Season 1's 'The Diet' is my favorite overall musical moment from the original, while the 'baby chicks' scene from an episode late in the show's run is my favorite comedic moment, although that would be hard to pull off on-stage. In your own research for playing Ricky, do you have a particular song or scene you'd like to bring to life should the show continue with a focus on different episodes?
BILL MENDIETA: The beauty of this concept and that we have the rights to all these episodes is that we can make additional theatrical representations of the show, and perhaps even run them in repertory. I enjoy the “Cuban Pete” number as well, and Sirena and I have prepared a version of that number for promotional appearances, but there are also some very fun episodes and moments from the TV show to choose from. The episode “Lucy is Jealous of the Girl Dancer” is a fun one that affords comic possibilities with song and dance. Many of the ones in Hollywood are very funny and offers many chances for Lucy to embarrass herself in her efforts to be a star. Or a really touching one would be “Lucy is Enceinte” when she is looking for the best way to tell Ricky she is pregnant. There are so many possibilities, what we do next could be a lot of fun.
After my conversation with Bill, it was time to get to know Sirena Irwin actress behind the spot-on reinterpretation of the show's leading lady Lucy Ricardo.
JP: Prior to winning the coveted role of Lucy, were you much of an I Love Lucy fan?
SIRENA IRWIN: I hadn’t grown up with a TV and though I knew of “I Love Lucy” – I hadn’t seen it but a handful of times. I had a lot to learn! Now I would consider myself one of the biggest fans. I Love Lucy!!!
JP: No TV?!?!? I can't imagine, but as a huge I Love Lucy fan myself, I can relate the the latter part of your reply. So, are their nuances to Lucy that you've tapped into since first stepping into the role during the initial Chicago & LA runs?
SIRENA IRWIN: There are little things that hit me occasionally on stage – like, “oh wow – that head turn was very Lucy.” It’s a funny thing to be thinking in the midst of it all. But sometimes, yes, it can be really thrilling to feel myself deepening my connection to Lucy Ricardo. Things are happening that make me feel ever closer to the character. I guess that happens after 400+ performances.
JP: I noticed on the I Love Lucy Live on Stage website that one of your headshots shows you with red hair, but you're typically a blonde. Did you dye it at some point, or was that just a bit of marketing photoshop?
SIRENA IRWIN: I dyed my hair red when we did the show in L.A. I wanted to know what it felt like to be a red head. It was great! But, ultimately, I felt called to return to the blonde locks!
JP: With this show, audiences get the chance to see I Love Lucy in living color. The only other time audiences saw Lucille and Desi I color was their big-screen pairing 'Forever Darling', the very Lucy-esque 'The Long Long Trailer' and CBS's colorized Christmas Special. Why do you think seeing our four favorite funny friends 'Live' and in color is proving so popular more than six decades after their debut?
SIRENA IRWIN: Because our four favorite funny friends are a thrill to watch! The master geniuses who created them did such a phenomenal job that whether audiences find them on stage or on TV, the love endures – the funny bone is tickled and a good time is had by all. Thank you Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, Bill Frawley, Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr. and all the many other technicians that made “I Love Lucy” the iconic television show that it is!
JP: Speaking of 'creating Lucy'...Is it a long process to get that 'Lucy look' ..hair/make-up/wardrobe?
SIRENA IRWIN: 1 and 1/2 hours before each performance.
JP: So we've talked about Lucy's hair, makeup and I wardrobe, but it's Lucille's physicality, pulled faces and voice that seem to really be the essence of Lucy Ricardo. I have to know....do you ever find yourself sitting in front of a mirror and practicing Lucy's trademark facial expressions or her distinctive 'whaaaa'?
SIRENA IRWIN: Absolutely! When I first started working on Lucy Ricardo I spent time both in front of a mirror and I even video taped myself to see if I was capturing her the way I thought I was capturing her. I was thrilled to eventually read that Lucille Ball frequently worked with a mirror when she was honing her comic bits – her moments of genius. So it felt like an invitation to do the same! No vanity – just craft. And, of course, FUN.
JP: Your ability to mimic Lucy's voice is earning your praise. Something your new fans may not realize...you, or at least your voice, is familiar to modern-day young TV viewers as well, as you have voiced SpongeBob SquarePants' mother, Mrs. SquarePants. What's more difficult, voice-over work or live theatre?
SIRENA IRWIN: One of my greatest joys has been to do voice work on Spongebob! I LOVE that show and everyone on it! It has been a huge gift in my life. HUGE! I thank Steve Hillenburg, the creator of Spongebob, everyday for the incredible opportunity and experience he has provided me. It’s hard to compare levels of difficulty because the worlds are so very different! Doing live theater 8 shows a week is demanding because it requires the same level of concentration and commitment each time. I wouldn’t ever want to let down an audience member. Ever! I may be there 8 times/week but they will probably only have this experience once and I want it to be a great experience for them! With voice-over I can record a take multiple times and then the director, producer and engineer will work together to make sure the viewers get the best take. So, the worlds are very different worlds - both are immensely pleasurable and both come with responsibility and accountablility.
JP: Being a genuine I Love Lucy fan, my absolute favorite moments in I Love Lucy come when the actors' true affection for each other shines through. A prime example comes in the episode when Lucy is trying to tell Ricky she's expecting. When he finally realizes she's the expectant mother in the audience, he sings and they kiss and Lucille gets teary-eyed. According to several books I've read, Lucille, the consummate professional wanted to do the scene again because she got so emotional, but director William Asher wouldn't allow a retake, knowing he had just captured classic TV gold. Is there a certain moment in the play that you look forward to every night?
SIRENA IRWIN: That’s funny because in one of the most recent Lucy reads of mine, “The Lucy Book” by Geofferey Mark Fidelman he recounts that they actually did do a re-take at William Asher’s request. And I believe I read elsewhere that the studio audience let their feelings be known that they didn’t think there should be a re-take as you can imagine they were probably all in puddles of tears! I LOVE that episode! It is one of my all time favorite episodes! Bill and I have been trying to get the producers to let us do that song – possibly as an encore or something? I look forward to the simple moments – Bill and I on the couch… and then I look forward to playing with Joanna Daniels (our Ethel) as we fight over the horse head…and then I look forward to Bamboo tree… and then I look forward to dancing with King Kat and then and then and then! There is so much to love about this play. I honestly don’t know where to stop!
JP: Wow! An encore featuring 'The Baby Song' would be awesome. Lucille had Desi and you've got Bill. As I mentioned earlier, the current National Tour marks the third mounting of this show in which you and Bill have shared the stage as Lucy and Ricky. What's your favorite thing about Bill's portrayal of Ricky Ricardo?
SIRENA IRWIN: His honesty. His connection. His perfect reactions to the zany antics of Lucy.
After posing questions to Bill and Sirena, I got a chance to pick the brain of actor Kevin Remington who brings to life the outwardly grumpy, but inwardly caring Fred Mertz, The Ricardos' landlord and Ricky's best friend.
JP: Have you noticed certain aspects of the show that the audience really responds to?
KEVIN REMINGTON: The audience, collectively, is an essential character in each performance. That was true when the original show was, for the first time, “filmed before a live audience” – and it’s true for the “live onstage” version. However, every audience is different and responds differently. Consistently though, the “quiz” portion of the show, where an audience member is brought onstage to test their “Lucy” trivia knowledge, is extremely interactive and it can get really fun and rowdy. “Babalu” is also a place in the show where people just go nuts – sometimes it feels like a rock concert – an exciting moment for sure.
JP: In one of my favorite I Love Lucy episodes from later in the series run, Little Ricky gets a puppy and after much deliberation decides to name it Fred...because he "wanted to name it after someone he loves". In spite of his curmudgeonly ways, why do you think Fred Mertz is thought of so fondly, not just by Little Ricky but by six decades of TV audiences?
KEVIN REMINGTON: Well he’s really, really funny in his cranky, understated way. And deep down, we know he doesn’t ever mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. He’s very affectionate about who he ribs and teases. His gruff demeanor is an exterior shell, I think. And it’s very easy to sense that when he’s your friend, he’s loyal and would go to the mat for you every time, even after telling you how fat you are. This was actually true of Frawley himself – a very loyal friend once he accepted you. This and other of his qualities were woven into Fred Mertz by the show’s writers. I also think he reminds us all of that uncle, brother-in-law, or grandpa that's cantankerous on the outside but sneaks you some candy or a five dollar bill when no one's looking.
JP: I think you're right about that. My own grandfather could easily be described the same way. Pretty much the plot of most I Love Lucy episodes involved Lucy scheming to get into Ricky's show. While that always ensured laughs, I also loved it when everybody did production numbers. You all get to sing and dance as part of I Love Lucy LIVE.
KEVIN REMINGTON: My personal favorite (I’m not in it, but I love it) is “Cumbanchero.” It’s a fantastic, driving, brassy-horned Latin piece that gets your blood pumping. Fred & Ethel perform “Varsity Drag” in the second episode of the show. It’s a pleasure to sing and dance it every night with Joanna Daniels – we have a great deal of fun with it.
JP: Whenever Lucy gets into a predicament, Ricky would usually blow his stack and go off into a Spanish rant. My sources tell me you're the only one of the four who speaks fluent Spanish, so can you answer something I've been wondering for years? What does 'Mira que tiene cosa la loco mujer esta' mean?
KEVIN REMINGTON: Not sure why the word order’s so jumbled up but – should read something like: “Mira que cosa tiene esta loca mujer!” which roughly translates as “Can you believe/get a load of/what’s the matter with that/this crazy dame!?”
JP: Ha! The jumble is probably because I snagged that line from a Lucy fansite after not being able to transpose it from the episode myself. Prior to joining I Love Lucy LIVE, you were part of another quarrelsome quartet when you portrayed Truman Capote in Jeffrey Hartgraves' 'Carved In Stone', a 'what if' look at an afterlife conversation between Capote, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams and Quentin Crisp. (Wow! I'd love to have seen that!) Who do you think is more difficult to channel, Frawley or Capote?
KEVIN REMINGTON: Frawley – definitely. He’s extremely understated, Midwestern and droll. There are no glaring “handles” to grab onto with him at first. I looked at many “Lucy” episodes to find patterns both vocal and physical to latch onto in the beginning of building the Frawley/Mertz persona for “Lucy Live”. It is something that I continually work on to refine and detail with every performance.
JP: Taking a cue from that show, if Truman Capote were to have a conversation with William Frawley, what do you suppose he'd ask?
KEVIN REMINGTON: “Straight up, or on the rocks?”
JP: OK, that's the perfect response. TPAC, your host venue for the Nashville run of I Love Lucy LIVE quickly announced that the run was been extended. Is there anything you hope to see on your off-time while in Music City?
KEVIN REMINGTON: I’d really like to see the Hermitage, Honky Tonk Highway area for some good music and local color. I don’t think I’ll be able to see a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, but would definitely like to visit or take a tour if possible. I’d also like to find some real “locals only” music venues and restaurants that are off the beaten path.
JP: Hit me up about the 'locals only' spots. So...It's well documented that William Frawley and Vivian Vance didn't exactly get along off-set mainly because Vivian felt Frawley was much too old to be playing opposite her. On the flipside, what's the best part of having Joanna Daniels as Ethel to your Fred?
KEVIN REMINGTON: I really love working with Bill (Ricky) and Sirena (Lucy) and Joanna equally – they’re all so much fun and always ready to play. And to be honest, I enjoy everyone in the company both onstage and off. So – the best part of having Joanna as Ethel. There’s a lot of “bests” I could list – she’s really extraordinary. It’s her ability to respond so naturally and completely as Ethel/Vance in any given situation. If we’re ever thrown any curve balls, she takes it all in stride and does it with humor, courage, verve and panache.
That answer led to the perfect segue into my questions for the fourth and final member of our fabulously funny quartet, Joanna Daniels, who much like her 1950's counterpart, Ethel Mertz, and Vivian Vance, the legendary supporting actress who played her, is easily the show's not-so-hidden gem.
JP: Kevin just told me his favorite aspect of working with you as Ethel to his Fred, so let's start our conversation with what you enjoy most about playing opposite Kevin?
JOANNA DANIELS: The offstage antics. Kevin is a dancer and watching him dance backstage as Fred Mertz is hysterical. Kevin is also very witty and the clever things that fly out of his mouth crack me up.
JP: I saw on Twitter when you began this current National Tour that you were reading the Vivian Vance biography, "The Other Side of Ethel Mertz". When I read it, I was most surprised to learn that she was indeed classically trained in theatre. What little bit of trivia did you learn that you hadn't previously known?
JOANNA DANIELS: I was surprised to find that Vivian Vance usually played the vixen, onstage and off! It's funny to think of Ethel Mertz in that light, but that's a testament to just how versatile and capable Vance was. I'm willing to bet she was completely invested and believable in every part she played.
JP: OK, here's a trivia question for you...without Googling it, what was Ethel Mertz' middle name?
JOANNA DANIELS: "Ethel Mae Potter... We never forgot her". I think she had several other middle names throughout the run, but without googling them, that's all I've got!
JP: That's right. another of Ethel's middle names was Roberta...which by no coincidence is also Vivian Vance's real middle name. In I Love Lucy, whenever given the chance, Ethel was also more than willing to get into the show. Can you tell me a little about your first time on stage?
JOANNA DANIELS: I was the Tender Sweet Young Thing in "Free to be You and Me” with the Atlanta Workshop Players. It was such a fantastic experience with a very creative children's theatre company. The director, Lynn Ellis Stallings, is really the reason I'm an actor today. She knew how to reinforce the strengths and talents of young folks by creating a safe environment for us to be big and free. I suppose then, it's fitting that the play was" Free to Be You and Me"...never really thought about that before!
JP: My friends will attest to the fact that I constantly quote I Love Lucy dialogue, in particular, quite a few phrases from Ethel Mertz including "And now comes the piece de resistance....that means the best part", a line Ethel utters just before Lucy takes to the stage during one of their many talent shows. Another favorite Ethel phrase of mine is "No thanks. I've had sufficient", something Ethel said in a later episode while attending a lunch with Lucy and her new best friend Betty Ramsey. It's the perfect comeback when you're fed up. So.....any Ethel-isms you get to say during the show that to you are essential Ethel Mertz?
JOANNA DANIELS: I say that line in the show! "And now comes the piece de resistance, that means the best part of the evening..."Also, the ever frustrated "Oh, Lucy..." and the same with "Oh, Fred..."seems Ethel was always frustrated with someone! I find myself mimicking Vance in my daily life with the way she says "oooh....". I find it just creeps in to my own conversations. I also say "what a treasure trove" in the show, which in itself, is not a terribly funny line, but the way Vivian says it, with the emphasis on the A in treAsure, cracks me up.
JP: Lucille Ball was always a stickler for details and wanted to be sure that the audience really felt like they were watching two married couples living their daily lives. Lucille Ball hired costumer Elios Jenssen to create the costumes for the show, including the iconic polka-dot dress so often associated with I Love Lucy. For your show, you guys have award-winning Costume Designer Shon LeBlanc giving his own unique spin to the I Love Lucy look. Do you have a favorite costume, either yours or someone else's that's seen in this production?
JOANNA DANIELS: In the second act, I wear high -waisted cropped jeans and a short sleeved silk blouse. To me, that is the costume of mine that feels the most like Ethel. I always remember her "dressing down " in those types of high-waisted pants. I also like a blue flowered dress I wear in the second act to dress up for Mr. Parker. It's fitted with three quarter length sleeves, below the knee tailored skirt, and I feel like I remember seeing Ethel in dresses like that. The rest of my costumes are cotton house dresses, and honestly, they don't feel very Ethel to me, I think of her in very tailored dresses, plain but made out of fabrics that draped nicely, with a Peter Pan collar and an air of sophistication.
JP: Whenever Vivian Vance would sing on I Love Lucy, she often exhibited a somewhat operatic voice. How difficult is it to mimic her intonation while speaking and singing?
JOANNA DANIELS: Well... we are actors, not imitators, and these 4 are inimitable anyway, but as actors we do have a responsibility with this to be recognizable as these people to the audiences who have known and loved them for years., So, we worked with our director, Rick Sparks on the vocal rhythms of the show. The timing. I found that to be the key to this whole piece. Once we were able to recreate the rhythm, the rest of it seemed to fall into place. I love the way Vivian speaks and sings.. It's a lot of fun to tackle, and I find it creeps in to my everyday speech. She's midwestern, and I'm southern. and i find a lot of similarities between the two. In the episodes we do in the show, Ethel and Fred sing one of their Vaudeville numbers, and Ethel does so in the style of a flapper. So, I don't really get a chance to use Ethel's operatic voice. Would welcome the opportunity to do so! Perhaps in The Operetta, or Ethel's Homecoming??
JP: In 2010, you starred in the LA production of "Becky's New Car", for which you received a Best Actress nod from the LA Drama Critic Circle. Since playing Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy LIVE, you've received rave reviews. What's more gratifying...critical acclaim, peer recognition of audience adoration?
JOANNA DANIELS: C. All of the above. As actors, there is sometimes a culture of pretending that we are not concerned with outside opinions of our work, but how selfish this profession would be if that were so!
It matters what people think of our work, otherwise, we'd be putting on plays in our own backyards.
The critics opinions matter, they are the bullhorn on the mountaintop, the professional eye for the general public to use as a guide for where to spend their theatre dollars. If the critics are raving about what we do, it's a shortcut to building our audience.
That being said, there is nothing like the visual and audible appreciation that comes from an audience during the show, and at the curtain call. It's measurable feedback, affirming that the actors have done their job of telling the story, and it feels good. I'm a bit of a people pleaser, so for me, knowing that the audience is happy and satisfied with what they've experienced completes the experience for me!
And how wonderful to have the respect of people you hold in high esteem. When someone I look up to takes the time to tell me things they like about my performance, I get goose-bumpy. Peer recognition in any field is important, and in this case, it oftentimes leads to the next job.
JP: The current tour features two of I Love Lucy's most beloved 'episodes' being recreated LIVE onstage. If you could pick another favorite Ethel-cetric episode to take on the road, what would it be?
JOANNA DANIELS: The Operetta and Ethel's Homecoming are two that I mentioned earlier. The Operetta is simply one of my all time favorites, and I would love the chance to sing "Lily of the Valley" in that classic Ethel operatic style! Ethel's homecoming is just all about Ethel, so that's why I like that one. Chances are slim that this one would ever get picked since the show is not called I Love Ethel. Oh well.
With that, my interviews with Bill, Sirena, Kevin and Joanna came to and end. Thankfully, the fun's not over yet for fans of 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage'. As mentioned above, the show finishes it's Nashville stop with five remaining shows at TPAC this weekend. There's an 8 p.m. show Friday, January 31 and matinee and evening performances Saturday and Sunday, February 1 & 2. To purchase tickets, CLICK HERE. Not in Nashville but hoping to see the show in a city near you? CLICK HERE for upcoming dates. Still not sure you'll love this latest incarnation of I Love Lucy? CLICK HERE to check out my review of the show. Can't get enough I Love Lucy? CLICK HERE to peruse my list of 100 facts about America's favorite redhead. Up next for TPAC is a fresh take on a more modern classic, Ghost: The Musical. CLICK HERE to for dates and tickets.
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