I Love Lucy Live On Stage is exactly what it sounds like: the lights go down in 2015, and when they come back up again we are transported to the Desilu Playhouse in 1952 to watch the filming of iconic comedy show “I Love Lucy”. Audience members are presented with two full episodes of “Lucy”: “The Benefit” and “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined”. I remember watching “I Love Lucy” on library-borrowed DVDs as a child, and, in the spirit of book-to-movie adaptations, was expecting to be disappointed by a television-turned-Broadway show. In fact, I laughed myself to tears.
Staying true to the slapstick nature of the television program it emulates, I Love Lucy Live On Stage elicits laughter at a minimum of perhaps once every two minutes. The entire cast is vastly skilled in comedy, with especially hilarious performances by ensemble member Denise Moses in various roles including an audience-planted “I Love Lucy” fanatic with stage fright, a singing and tap dancing Speedy alka seltzer tablet, and a “Pleasant Peasant” in an alliterative operetta involving milkmaids. With 4 actors onstage for the majority of the play (Thea Brooks as Lucy, Euriamis Losada as Ricky, Kevin Remington as Fred, and Lori Hammel as Ethel) and 9 other actors playing a total of 38 additional parts,Lucy Live is truly an ensemble effort.
The set is simple, and it works: colored lights hang over the alternately curtained-off stage sets of Lucy and Ricky’s apartment and the club where Ricky sings. Cameras are wheeled around onstage as ‘50s commercials are re-enacted and the eccentric Desilu Playhouse Host, played by Mark Christopher Tracy, explains the filming process to the audience. (Fourth wall? What fourth wall?)
I Love Lucy Live Onstage transplants “I Love Lucy” directly and effectively to the stage, and if it were not for the full color (as a character finding themselves on the set of “I Love Lucy” states, “I had no idea Lucy’s hair was that red!”) it would have been easy to forget that I was not in fact sitting in front of the television. I mention this both as a complement to the dedication to and consideration of loyal fans by the creators, cast, and crew and as a criticism of what I see as a missed opportunity: I would have liked to see Lucy Live take a path further behind the scenes, to how the show came to be and to the real lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, a path which was not remotely explored. On the whole, Lucy Live is enjoyable, but does not hold a relatively large amount of original content. While I in fact greatly enjoyed I Love Lucy Live On Stage, I find myself asking: If so much of the show is made so as to transport us into a preexisting and well-made television program, why are we spending money to watch it on Broadway?