It’s 2013, and a blast from the past has arrived at 710 Main Theatre in Buffalo. I Love Lucy® Live on Stage! When walking into the show, I did not expect to be taken back to 1950s Hollywood. In all honesty, it seemed to be a really goofy idea for a live stage show. Everyone has watched those countless syndicated episodes starring Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and, Ethel. Syndicated, because I Love Lucy® was the first show first scripted television program to be shot on 35 mm film in front of a studio audience! Meaning that even after the show ended in 1957, the world would still be able to watch the timeless stories of continued hi-jinks and attempts at being discovered by a showbiz big-shot! It seemed like this was just going to be a show that allowed Lucy fans one last hurrah, but that cannot be further from the truth.
The show starts when we are greeted by Maury Jasper (Mark Christopher Tracy), the host of the evening, who is there to give you a play by play of all things Hollywood. He interacts with the crowd, complete with a few audience plants who quickly discover that they both know a mutual friend, and go off into a hysterical conversation that Maury has to put to a quick stop. . .by telling them to become pen-pals. A real Bob Hope appeal to Tracy’s character, who has a wonderful smile and keeps the audience excited. It was really charming to see things be explained as if a real taping of a show was happening. Having a background in television production, I was surprised at how accurate the show was when it came to explaining what an “insert” was, or what a “boom mic” was. It was nice to watch a “Stand By” countdown occur, and actually be accurate. For those of you who may not know what a “stand by” countdown is, it is when the stage manager on a set of a television show is told by the control room that the camera is about to start rolling. This also helps the actors know when their cues are.
This is the most exciting piece of theater I have seen in a long time!
After a few other studio housekeeping items are taken care of, like making sure to clap and cheer when the “applause” sign is lit, the stars of the show are introduced! Lucy Ricardo (Sirena Irwin) and Ricky Ricardo (Bill Mendieta) come out and welcome the studio audience to the taping. Just like, I would assume, the real stars would have back in the 50s. (Being 22, I can say that I wasn’t there) This added to the spectacle of the Hollywood atmosphere. Getting to see the stars of the show come out and welcome the audience who are already so excited to be there.
The show begins. First; the taping of “The Benefit.” In this famous episode, Ethel asks Lucy if she can get Ricky to sing at her arts society benefit. Lucy, being the wannabe showbiz star that she is, thinks that she can make Ricky do it, as well as be in the show herself! Right off the bat, Irwin’s portrayal of Lucy Ricardo was spot on! Her accent, her laugh, her demeanor, and, her delivery, mirrored that of the character from the television program. It was uncanny at times, watching her performance, because I actually believed that I was watching the actual show. Irwin gives a performance that those who were around at the beginning of the I Love Lucy® show, would agree the real Lucy would be proud of. Not many times does a performance of someone else’s performance work out so well, unless being parodied, but Irwin knocks the ball out of the park as America’s favorite redhead!
Bill Mendieta’s performance as Ricky Ricardo is one of the best impersonations I have seen. Although he did not look as much as Ricky in the program, he made up for it in sound. Mendeita’s singing in “Babalu” and “Under the Bamboo Tree” is superior. If you close your eyes during the performance, you will have trouble telling that this man was not the original. He also hits the nail on the head when it comes to the Spanish ranting Ricky did ever so often on the program.
After the first episode is finished, Maury comes out and introduces the Crystalone Singers, the singing advertising group that, in my opinion, stole the entire show! What is television without commercials? It wouldn’t exist! In between set ups, the Crystalone singers entertained us with songs for products such as, Brylcreem – a product that could be compared to modern day AXE hair gel that will make women want to ‘run their hands through your hair!’ “Brylcreem, just a dab will do ya!” Then they sang songs for Speedy Alka Seltzer and the timeless jingle-“See the USA in your Chevrolet.” These actors were extremely versatile and talented. Each one of them complemented the next. It was very entertaining to watch them perform.
The second episode then began taping, “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined,” where Lucy, Fred, and, Ethel discover that Ricky is bringing a friend over for dinner, who happens to be a big Broadway producer that is currently looking for actors for his new show. Of course, Lucy tricks Ricky into leaving the house so she, Fred, and Ethel, can perform for him. This episode was fun, especially when the characters “went up” on their lines. In real studio tapings, actors who are just like the rest the rest of us, make mistakes. As I was watching the show, I was wondering if they were going to actually put line flubs into the script to give the audience the actual feel of a live taping. I am happy they did because it gave a great authenticity to the production.
One interesting thing about this production of I Love Lucy® Live on Stage, is that the cast was not your typical, right out of college, actors. Many times we see touring company shows with a bunch of 20 or 30 somethings that are right off the assembly line (adding my own 1950s Chevrolet type reference, at no extra charge to you), but this was filled with more mature actors who really did a wonderful job fitting in the time frame of the era. I don’t really think a younger group of actors would have been able to pull this show off. I am extremely pleased by the choice of casting, because this production needed experienced character actors, not rookies.
Another interesting thing that I noticed is that the episodes themselves did not seem to get as much response from the audience as the commercials did. Everyone has seen the episodes so many times, that I think the audience knew what was coming, but when the Crystalone Singers would appear, the audience would roar in hysterics. They made the show. The goofy kitschy performances and great costumes really brought a glow to the faces in the audience. It was a great idea to add them to the production.
There is really nothing bad I can say about this production. The small intimate space at the 710 Main Theatre really made this show work. It would have died in a larger setting. The audience got to interact with the cast, and was made to feel special. It was definitely a great choice of venue. The audience participation aspect to the show was also fun to witness. Lucy Trivia, where the prize was a year supply of Halo Shampoo, just another product from the 50s, was hysterical as audience members were brought up on stage to compete. What also made this show fun, was the cheesiness of the humor used, and how goofy television in the 50s was. It was a great homage to the I Love Lucy® television program. I Love Lucy® Live On Stage is a show that is a fun time had by all! All ages will find something in this show to like. If you grew up with Lucy, you will love it! If you don’t know who Lucy is, you will love it! If you have a pulse and like to laugh, you will love this show! This is the most exciting piece of theater I have seen in a long time!
Running Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes, no intermission.
I Love Lucy® Live on Stage is running through October 13, 2013 presented by Shea’s Performing Arts Center and Albert Nocciolino as part of the Frey Electric 2013-2014 inaugural season at the 710 Main Theater (formally Studio Arena). The show, and tickets are $47.00 and $57.00. For more information visit sheas.org/710main.