Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel are back (and in color!) in I Love Lucy Live on Stage, performing at the State Theatre in Minneapolis January 20th through the 25th. The show transports the audience to the Desilu studio as the live audience at the filming of two episodes of I Love Lucy, “The Benefit” and “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined.” Between scenes, the Desilu Playhouse Host introduces performers who present live commercials for products to the audience through song and dance. The whole evening emanates nostalgia, but fails to connect with younger audiences.
Perhaps the intention of co-adapters Rick Sparks and Kim Flagg is not to create an experience that resonates with everyone, whether or not they already love Lucy when they enter the theater. Perhaps Sparks and Flagg created the stage experience of I Love Lucy solely for the already diehard Lucy lovers of generations past and present. If so, I am certainly not the target audience. As a millennial, I did not grow up with new episodes of I Love Lucy premiering weakly on my TV. I think I speak for most of my generation when I say: I have seen clips of I Love Lucy and know the basic outline of the series, but never found myself all that interested in the stories or humor presented in this show from the 1950’s. Therefore, the structure of I Love Lucy Live on Stage, although extremely faithful to the original, does not increase my interest. The jokes feel forced, the live commercials feel over the top, the constant references to gender roles at the time are tiring, and the obscure references leave little room for understanding by anyone born after 1985.
Nevertheless, the production itself is masterful. Although I often found myself rolling my eyes at jokes, I always looked back so as not to miss an amazing performance. The iconic role of Lucy Ricardo (and Lucille Ball) is played by the extraordinary Thea Brooks. She is able to replicate the mannerisms and vocalizations of Lucy so well that any dissimilarity is unnoticeable. Although younger and prettier than the original Ricky Ricardo, Euriamis Losada (E.L.) creates an authentic, entertaining, and impressive performance. The standout moment of the show is when E.L. sings Arnaz’s popular hit “Babalu.” As a Cuban native, E.L. brings a natural and credible element to the character of Ricky/Desi, especially noticeable during this song. The Latin energy radiates from Ricky and his band right into the souls of the audience, creating a relieving, exciting moment. The entire company give wonderful, energetic performances that scream 1950s, and further the believability that we are indeed on the set ofI Love Lucy.
I do realize the important precedents set by I Love Lucy as one of the first interracial couples on TV and a woman who has dreams outside of the house, as well as initiating live audiences on sitcoms, and creating the concept of the rerun. I appreciate the doors that were opened by Lucille Ball for strong, comedic roles for women. I acknowledge the love that many people have for the show. However, I find this production to be more enjoyable for those who will find it nostalgic than for those who know of Lucy and Ricky only in the abstract.