They certainly look the same, but are they the same?
Who loves Lucy? Millions of Americans enjoy the 1950’s television series I Love Lucy enough to say, “I do.” Now, after the six seasons of the original broadcast and decades of reruns, I Love Lucy has taken to the stage in the adaptation I Love Lucy: Live on Stage, at the Orpheum through January 25. This stage version of I Love Lucy is worth seeing if you want a refreshing change in musical theater format or abundant audience interaction. However, this production is a diamond in the rough because it lacks cohesion and a real dramatic arc.
The performers in this production have a lot to live up to—in 2012, ABC News Network andPeople Magazine conducted a vote that put I Love Lucy at the top of the list for Best TV Shows of All Time. Fortunately, Thea Brooks (Lucy Ricardo), Euriamis Losada (Ricky Ricardo), Kevin Remington (Fred Mertz), and Lori Hammel (Ethel Mertz) offer an impressively accurate portrayal of the stars of the 1950’s television series. During the two episodes of I Love Lucy that the production crew and cast is supposedly recording, the four actors talk, sing, and even tell jokes as they were told decades ago by Lucile Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley. In between I Love Lucyscenes, the ensemble performs a variety of vintage commercials with classic 1950’s singing and dance numbers that are well choreographed and sung but became monotonous as they trudge on and on (quite like real television ads). One exception is a delightful showing of the Pleasant Peasant Operetta, which was truly inspired and hilarious.
I Love Lucy: Live on Stage engages the audience by putting television onstage in a very authentic way: the audience is a live studio audience watching the premiere of two I Love Lucy episodes. In the performance, the actors don’t break the fourth wall for the simple reason that there is no fourth wall in the first place! The acting and technical elements go a long way towards making the show feel like a live broadcast. The host for the evening, Mr. Maury Jasper (Mark Christopher Tracy), welcomes the entire audience and gives everyone a tour of the space and the features of a television studio—something that many theatergoers could certainly learn more about. The set is arranged as a recording studio, which decreased the creativity of the settings but maintained authenticity.
The one aspect of the new format that hinders the overall effect is the character of Mrs. Birdie Mae Figg (her name is a strong indicator of the quality of the character). This actress sits in the audience and presumably is part of the bridge between the actors onstage and the audience in their seats. She occasionally converses with Mr. Jasper onstage and competes with an audience member in an I Love Lucy quiz. However, she does not contribute much to the plot and does not develop the actor-audience connection she strives to make.
The character of Mrs. Birdie Figg reveals a deeper reason why this performance struggles. Her acting is difficult to enjoy because it does not serve a greater purpose. Similarly, all the elements of the production do not build to any meaningful climax. In effect, there is no central plot. This is the absolute largest hindrance for this adaptation of I Love Lucy because a set of scenes and skits and commercials does not stick together unless there is a dramatic arc. Without this structure, the performance deflates.
I Love Lucy: Live on Stage is an intriguing production. The experimentation with a new format and audience interaction puts an interesting twist on the traditional musical theater form. However, I Love Lucy: Live on Stagedoes not offer much more than a conglomeration of commercials and skits strung out in a line. If it is the television show you are yearning for, just turn your television to the appropriate rerun channel and enjoy.C