Even for all the cynicism that I can muster, I must say that I never expected to see a sitcom adapted to the stage. Perhaps a webcomic, snapchat or hour long television drama (CSI: Dead on stage), would make it, but a sitcom? But more shocking than a sitcom adapting to stage is that my cynicism did not lash out in any great force at such an audacious adaption. I Love Lucy (Live On Stage) is the adaption of the 50’s sitcom by the same name, playing (or taping) at the State Theater until January 25th.
I Love Lucy (Live on Stage) has a clever execution. It is an adaptation of two episodes, and it’s done in the form of back to back live taping. I admire that decision. While it might not seem all that original, it best maintains the integrity of the sitcom. This deprives the show of any overarching narrative, but the distinction between deprivation and salvation is subjective. While you may wonder what could possibly be worthwhile about a musical with two separate plots, I Love Lucy is actually entertaining. It’s entertaining to watch characters who are deliberately trying to entertain you for once. I Love Lucy may be in the style of classic television, but it’s definitely not in the style of classic theater.
I Love Lucy is also not classic in terms of musical theatre numbers, the singing or dancing. It’s best described as diegetic. That means it is not about the actors singing and dancing their emotions or intentions on behalf of the audience, but rather singing and dancing as a show, to entertain the audience. In this way, it has much more in common with what I’ve heard of older, vaudeville style musicals than contemporary musical theatre. The music, singing, and dancing is done as the show within a show within the show, if you feel like wrapping your head like that. If you have ever felt the characters in musicals break into song for no apparent reason, or if songs in musical have too much emotional substance and not enough entertainment value, then this might be the show for you.
I can’t tell if I enjoyed I Love Lucy or not. I enjoyed how refreshing the format and style was, to see a show that’s so diegetic and different from anything else I’ve seen from traveling broadway productions. It definitely felt dated at points- they made fun of the accent had by Cuban Ricky Ricardo (played by Euriamis Losada), and the now cliched ‘miserable matrimony’ of Ethel and Fred Mertz. Lucille Ball has the reputation as a trailblazer for women in comedy, and rightfully so, but what was progressive in the fifties can feel slightly antiquated today. Part of me certainly wonders if celebrating or recreating commercials from the past as done in I Love Lucy is worthwhile cultural history or the further blurring of the distinction between art and marketing.
I Love Lucy (Live On Stage) is a clever way of going about an adaption. Instead of constructing the sitcom into something it wasn’t like a two hour epic narrative, it deconstructed it into something that pays homage to the birth of television in American culture and one of the greats in that time. But I’ll confess, I Love Lucy interests me in a way that would be characterized as academic, certainly not love.