For those of a certain age, such as this writer, who remember seeing “I Love Lucy” when it aired on TV in the ‘50s, it was a flood of nostalgia. And for those younger, who have or are now experiencing the hit sitcom in reruns, it was a live, in color, look at a much simpler time. What everybody in the audience Tuesday at “I Love Lucy® Live on Stage” at the Old National Centre’s Murat Theatre had in common; however, was an appreciation for timeless, warmhearted comedy.
“The Benefit” and “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined,” two “I Love Lucy” episodes written by Jess Oppenheimer, Indianapolis native Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Caroll Jr., were the basis for this production, which was staged and directed by Rick Sparks. He, along with Kim Flagg, were responsible for this clever adaptation, with new material, for the stage. The premise for the show is a live filming of the episodes at the Desilu Playhouse with the Murat audience participating as if they were present at the studio. Interspersed throughout the filming are ‘50s commercials performed by the Crystaltone Singers.
Featured as mid-century America’s favorite foursome were Sirena Irwin as Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), Bill Mendieta as Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), with Kevin Remington and Joanna Daniels as sidekicks Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance). Those expecting mirror impersonations of the show’s iconic characters may have been disappointed, but the actors’ (per Sparks’ direction) ability to skillfully capture their essence alone resulted in a loving tribute that was as affectionate as it was meaningful.
Irwin didn’t have to be a dead ringer for Lucille Ball to make herself believable as the always scheming but goodhearted Lucy because she skillfully captured the iconic character’s trade-mark mannerisms, such as the mugging, wide-eyes, cries and wails. Irwin was also convincing as Lucy because she was able to replicate her off-key singing and broad physical comedy which was one of Ball’s trademark talents.
Mendietta was also convincing as the Lucy’s long-suffering husband, Ricky Ricardo, a Cuban bandleader with a thick accent who puts up with her never-ending manipulation because his love for her is so great that he manages to overlook her shenanigans time after time.
Remington and Daniels deserve plaudits for recreating both the chemistry and the feigned animosity between the loveable Mertzes—roles so masterfully executed by Frawley and Vance.
Mark Christopher Tracy also turned in a fine performance as Maury Jasper, the Desilu Playhouse host who warmed up the audience and informed them about the filming process.
The cast also included Sarah Elizabeth Combs, Gregory Franklin, Peter Kevoian, Jayme Lake, Carlos Martin, Tyler Milliron, Denise Moses, Cindy Sciacca, Jeffrey Christopher Todd, Carolynne Warren and Tamara Zook. Many of them were singers and dancers who excelled as the Crystaltones who performed in commercials for the TV audience. Products advertised included Mr. Clean, Brylcream (“a little dab will do ya”), Alka Seltzer, Dorothy Gray Beauty Cream and Chevrolet. The show within the show also featured a segment during which the Crystaltones sang a medley of songs popular in the ‘50s including “Glow Little Glow Worm” and “Wheel of Fortune.
It goes without saying that the production’s period-accurate sets and costumes, designed by Aaron Henderson, Shon LeBlanc and Kelly Bailey, respectively, were also responsible for transporting the audience back in time. Seeing the recreated “I Love Lucy” sets was like looking at a precious old family photo.
Tickets for “I Love Lucy® Live on Stage,” which runs through Sunday, Feb. 16, are available at the Old National Centre Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster.com, OldNationalCentre.com and by phone at 800-745-3000.
Do you wish to become a regular reader of this column? Receive e-mail alerts when new articles are available. Just click on the “Subscribe” button above. Also, "Like" Tom Alvarez on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.