On Theater: ‘Lucy Live’ is lovable as ever
Anyone who is, shall we say, mature enough to remember television from back in the early 1950s will get an enormous kick out of the current offering at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
“I Love Lucy Live on Stage” takes its audiences back to TV’s earliest days when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were breaking ground for televised comedy. Even the commercials are a kick in this kooky creation of writer-director Rick Sparks.
It’s 1952 and the Desilu Playhouse is filming two episodes of “I Love Lucy” pretty much as written back then. The show consists of those two half-hour offerings plus some off-camera chatter that will get the audience back on the street before two hours have elapsed (unusual for the center).
The trick, of course, is to get two performers capable of looking and sounding like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, as well as their best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz. And here the producers have struck gold.
Sirena Irwin, who created the role of Lucy when the show was born in 2011 in Los Angeles, is most assuredly on the Ball, a bit taller and more athletic perhaps, but her comic timing is magical. Irwin sells the role with her outsized reactions, particularly her facial expressions, as she recreates this classic comedian who had but one peer, Carol Burnett, during her illustrious career.
As Ricky, the Cuban bandleader whose accent elicits innumerable laughs, Bill Mendieta fills the bill superbly. Mendieta has captured Arnaz’s exasperated mood and style with a splendid comic flourish. (The names “Ball” and “Arnaz” are not uttered in the production; it’s strictly “Lucy” and “Ricky.”)
The Mertzes are expertly recreated by a rotund Kevin Remington and a sharp-tongued Joanna Daniels — apparently aging way up, if her photo in the program is accurate. They beautifully capture the old-time vaudeville polish of these legendary second bananas.
Backing them up rigorously and setting the early ‘50s mood with style and verve are a dozen actors in multiple roles, including commercials for Chevrolet, Brylcreem and Alka-Seltzer. The Chevy theme song comes from an actress dubbed “Dinah Beach” (Sarah Elizabeth Combs). Only those of a certain age will recall Dinah Shore singing “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.”
As the Desilu Playhouse emcee, and the show’s link to the audience, Mark Christopher Tracy keeps things hopping even through the “down” moments while the stars are changing backstage. Gregory Franklin gives a richly understated performance as a famous Broadway producer Lucy’s trying to impress.
Between filming of the two segments, Tracy invites two audience members (one real, one planted) onto the stage to vie in an “I Love Lucy” trivia contest. Richard Strimer excels as Lucy’s dance teacher as he and Irwin (who shows off her true dancing skill) rock out to a vintage musical score.
Unlike most of the center’s productions, “I Love Lucy Live on Stage” isn’t really a musical, although Ricky’s band entertains and the commercials are set to music. This is an hour and three-quarters of rib-tickling comedy that, for the more seasoned audiences, will recreate a long-ago and much-lamented era of television pioneering.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: “I Love Lucy Live on Stage”
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Tickets start at $29
Information: (714) 556-2787 or https://www.scfta.org