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If you Love Lucy, you'll adore 'I Love Lucy Live' at TPAC through February 2

I Love Lucy Live on Stage, National Tour, Nashville, TPAC


After sold-out and extended performances in both Chicago and Los Angeles, 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage' is in the midst of a national tour and currently calling Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) it's home now through February 2. If you read my Nashville Entertainment or Turner Classic Movie column with any regularity, you likely know I'm a self-confessed Lucy Geek. That said, I must admit going in, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about four actors taking on the task of bringing Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel to the stage for an all-new theatrical experience.
Even before the show starts, 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage' supporting cast members get the eager audience in a fifties kinda mood by mingling in the audience. Staying fully in character as 1950s housewife Mrs. Birdie Mae Figg (Denise Moses) chats up patrons as the wait for the doors to TPAC's Polk Theatre to open. Quite by coincidence, or perhaps I was sporting my Ralph Marlin "I Love Lucy" tie, Mrs. Figg asked me and my friend if this was our first time to 'Hollywood'.
When the doors to the theatre open, the transport to Desilu Studios in 1950s Hollywood, California continues with the first glimpse of a red velvet curtained stage revealing only two vintage-style cameras, both bearing the Desilu logo. Purist that I am, I commented to my friend that there better be a third camera, as it was Desi Arnaz who perfected the three-camera technique for television still used my many sitcoms today. My trepidation was soon eased when Mark Christopher Tracy soon takes to the stage as Maury Jasper, Desilu Playhouse' Host. He welcomes the audience, explains that what we'll be seeing is the live taping of two episodes of "I Love Lucy", the popular CBS sitcom starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. He also explains that throughout the evening there will be live commercials for their sponsors and musical interludes by The Crystaltone Singers'. On the subject of The Crystaltone Singers, kudos to Sarah Elizabeth Combs, Gregory Franklin, Peter Kevoian, Jayme Lake, Carlos Martin, Tyler Milliron, Jeffrey Christopher Todd, Tamara Zook and in particular, the aforementioned Denise Moses, as well as Cindy Sciacca and Carolynne Warren, as each and every member of the supporting cast provides laughs and music between the two 'episodes'. They truly help convey the feeling of being at a Desilu TV taping.
At this point, it should be noted that if you're coming to 'I Love Lucy Life on Stage' expecting to see an exact duplicate of the familiar episodes, you'll be surprisingly excited to see something more. No, they're not performing classic episodes like "Vitameatavegamin" or "Lucy's Italian Movie". If you wanna see those reenacted, might I suggest a Universal Studios Tour, where they're done for mass appeal, not creative interpretation and to give audience a look at lesser-known, but equally hilarious Lucy hijinks. Yes, the cast looks very much like their TV counterparts, but as experienced theatrical actors, they all thankfully bring a bit more to the role and what could easily come off as parody if overdone.
After a brief but mood-setting musical interlude courtesy of the show's original music director, Wayne Moore, "The Benefit" an episode that first aired on Monday, January 7, 1952, begins. Sirena Irwin, Bill Mendieta, Joanna Daniels and Kevin Remington as Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred start the 'episode' like so many "I Love Lucy" episodes, as we see them enjoying a night of friendship at the Ricardo's apartment at 623 East 68th Street. For true Lucy fans like myself, seeing the set in living color is truly a magical moment. The attention to detail in the sets, props and costumes is phenomenal.
Sirena Irwin as Lucy Ricardo has the look. As for the look, there are three main components to the LUcy look. First, there's that all-to-familiar flaming red hair. Of course Lucille Ball attributed her technicolor tresses to a simple henna rinse, but it's Diane Martinous, the show's wig designer and hair stylist who's responsible for Sirena's Lucy wigs. Then there's the period-perfect red lips and makeup by Desiree Falcon. Lastly, there's Lucy's wardrobe. Costume designers Shon LeBlanc and Kelly Bailey bring Lucy's fashions to colorful life. The costumes, while not exact replicas, save one particular dress, are definitely inspired by Lucille Ball's real-life costumer, Elois Jenssen, but with a fresh interpretation that enhances, rather than mimics.
With Sirena dressed the part, it's time to see if she can pull it off. Yes she can. On the subject of pulling, Sirena does a spot-on job of 'pulling faces' just like Lucy herself. Her voice at times is a little different pitch than Lucy's, which wasn't really how Lucille Ball spoke to begin with, but Sirena has the mannerisms, physicality and that classic Lucy Ricardo cry perfected. Sirena's Lucy is at her best when she's being all lovey dovey to Ricky, or when she's in the midst of some of her zaniest antics, including a second act eyedrop-induced dizzy jitterbug. A particularly blissful comedic moment occurs when Lucy reworks her comedy act with Ricky to assure she gets the last laugh.
As Lucy's frequent, and often unwilling partner in crime, Ethel Mertz, Joanna Daniels is scrumptious. Her wig seems a bit too perfect--after all, Ethel was typically frazzled either by her hubby Fred or her best pal, Lucy. Nonetheless, Joanna embodies the spirit of the quintessential sidekick. Her intonation and that Ethel Mertz laugh are just dreamy. I for one, always loved it when Vivian Vance sang on the show. Same goes for when Daniels showcases her lovely voice in a few numbers throughout the evening.
When she's joined by Kevin Remington as Fred Mertz, it's a match made in redo heaven. While all three of his co-stars have performed in previous incarnations of the show, Remington is the newest addition to the 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage' family, having taken over the role when the tour began six months ago. One raised eyebrow in Ethel's direction, and its obvious why Remington won the role of America's premiere curmudgeon. Gotta love the wink to William Frawley and Vivian Vance's off-screen distain for each other during a quick glimpse of the real-life counterparts when Viv 'flubs' a line. It was also funny to hear Remington as Frawley as Fred make a comment about being at the bar across the street while they figured things out. A subtle reference to Frawley's notorious penchant for drinking. (YES, my Lucy Geek is showing!)
Both Remington and Daniels also showcase their musical talents when they recreate on of Fred and Ethel's most memorable production numbers, "The Varsity Drag". It's another 'Ahhhhhh' moment for Lucyphiles.
Bill Mendieta as Ricky Ricardo could give any current latin heartthrob a run for his pesos. With raven hair, caramel skin and a grin that would make anyone scream 'Aye Caramba!', Mendieta's Ricky possesses charm and talent so similar to Arnaz's that its easy to understand why 1950s TV audiences fully embrace the nations first interracial sitcom couple. He's funny and sweet during 'The Benefit', but it's Act Two's "Lucy Gets Her Eyes Examined", which originally aired on December 14, 1953 during the show's third season, that truly showcases his talent. When he performs 'Babalu' and the rarely-heard lyrical version of the "I Love Lucy" theme song, it's truly a trip back in time worth taking. My only complaint with the latter that is that Mendieta performs the vocal of "I Love Lucy" during the curtain call and it's hard to hear the song because of the thunderous applause from the audience.
With the producers currently maintaining an agreement for rights to all 179 episodes, here's hoping an 'I Love Lucy Live' national tour becomes an annual event. Might I suggest "Lucy is Enciente" and "The Operetta".
'I Love Lucy Live on Stage' continues the Nashville leg of the tour with performances at TPAC's Polk Theatre now through February 2. For tickets, CLICK HERE. If you're not in the Nashville area but want to see the show in a city near you, CLICK HERE to check out the official 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage' website for upcoming dates and more about the show.
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From their first scene together in 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage',  Sirena Irwin & Bill Mendieta embody the love between Lucy and Ricky.
From their first scene together in 'I Love Lucy Live on Stage', Sirena Irwin & Bill Mendieta embody the love between Lucy and Ricky.
Ed Krieger/
The cast of I Love Lucy Live on Stage
Ed Krieger/
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