"I Love Lucy" Live on Stage, at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago, is a paean, a true celebration to the glory days of television, the treasured sit com of the 50's, we all so dearly know and love, "I Love Lucy." The audience is transported back in time to the Hollywood set of DesiLu Studios, all in bright, bold, fancy technicolor, in sharp contrast to the black and white tv series. It is an interactive experience, with vivacious, colorful DesiLu Playhouse warm-up host, Maury Jasper (Ed Kross), who involves the audience throughout the show. As in Saturday Night Live, actors are implanted in the audience (Mrs. Beulah Figg, played by Debbie Laumand-Blanc, and Mrs. Eugenia Swanson, played by Sara Sevigny.) They seem to be regular audience members, unusually adorned in classic vintage 50's attire, yet are actors, and an intrinsic part of the comedy that unfolds.
The show is a glorification of the beloved, olden, golden 'radio days,' the beginning of TV as we know it. And the I Love Lucy show, along with Jack Benny, and Uncle Milty, were among the stalwarts of the era. Some 50 odd years later, "I Love Lucy" is a universal favorite among all generations, with re-runs still going strong on Nick at Nite. The actors who recreate these legendary icons, Lucy (Sirena Irwin), and Ricky (Bill Mendieta), are amazing and amusing, with extraordinary talent and wit abundant enough to fill their shoes, as larger than life 'stand-ins,' as it were. The show combines the daily shenanigans of the wacky troupe, Lucy, Ricky, and neighbors Ethel and Fred (Joanna Daniels, and Curtis Pettyjohn) ; with brilliant dialogue that creates organized mayhem out of chaos.
The two episodes recreated onstage, "The Benefit," and "Lucy has her eyes Examined," include humor, slapstick jokes, physical comedy, song and dance. Director Rick Sparks brings energy and structure to each piece, drawing such fun performances from the entire cast. Many of today's situation comedy shows have a dearth of creativity and wholesome humor that our society so craves. Perhaps, this is the secret and magical appeal of "I Love Lucy" on stage, where the audience will appreciate the simplicity, yet profundity of each scene's message. A highlight and true joy of the performance are the 'commercials,' presented by the Crystaltone Singers. In contrast to today's million dollar ad campaigns, these recreated song and dance numbers about products, such as Brylcream, Alka Seltzer, and Chevrolet, were produced on a relatively shoe-string budget, yet were charmers, the most memorable of jingles, 'keepers,' that still resonate.
Accompanied by a live seven piece band, the show highlights the hilarious, fiery red-headed Lucy, a standout performance by Sirena Irwin, complete with Lucy's signature fluttering of the eyelashes, bawling out loud, inability to carry a tune, and impeccable comedic timing as the 'fallguy' to husband Ricky, one-upping him on every joke's punchline. Ricky, the consummate showman and husband, always sticking by her side, supporting her in every humiliating antic, we find Lucy to forever be the buffoon, the tragicomic figure, sad-sack, much like a character from Waiting for Godot. Yet, she always gets the last laugh. As we know, humor so often stems from pain, which is why writing humor is such an excruciatingly delicate process. The brilliant comedic genius of writers on staff of "I Love Lucy,"often based their stories on true to life experiences, which shine through in this production.
Lucy was the inspiration for so many comediennes, from Carol Burnett to Debra Messing to Tina Fey. The vaudeville/style comedy presented in this show harkens all the way back to perfomers, such as "black face" minstrel Eddie Ross. The reason for "I Love Lucy" Live On Stage's fabulous success (now in its second run in Chicago!), is the glorification of simpler times gone by, and a chance to laugh our cares away. In today's world, filled with economic angst, a world of 'haves and have-nots,' and the superficial housewives from Beverly Hills, New Jersey, and Atlanta, Lucy exemplifies and personifies the 'real' housewife, friend, and neighbor, just trying to get through the day, befuddled by everything around her.
*Note to audience, When inside the majestic Broadway Playhouse, gracing Chicago's historic Magnificent Mile, be sure to notice the memorabilia and vintage nostalgic posters throughout the lobby of the theatre.
Through March 3, 2013
Broadway Playhouse, Water Tower Place 175 E. Chestnut St.
Wed. 2 PM and 7:30 PM; Thurs. 7:30 PM; Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays 2 & 8 PM; Sundays 2 & 6:30 PM
312 977-1700 or 800 775-2000