BWW Reviews: I LOVE LUCY LIVE ON STAGE is Appealing Entertainment
"I Love Lucy" Live on Stage
original episodes written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr.
additional new material written by Kim Flagg and Rick Sparks
staged and directed by Rick Sparks
Greenway Court Theatre
through December 30
No one can duplicate the brilliance of Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Desi Arnaz and William Frawley, the original stars of I Love Lucy on CBS from 1951-1957; they are irreplaceable. But...oh what fun it is to see what they did and a glimmer of how they did it at the Desilu Studio in 1952 as presented by Rick Sparks in "I Love Lucy" Live on Stage now at the Greenway Court Theatre. Like the setup of last year's runaway stage hit Hoboken to Hollywood, the audience is the live audience for the taping, in Lucy's case - filming - with announcer, jingle singers and commercial actors all gearing up to put on a show in between actual takes of filming the episodes. This is a very entertaining evening thanks to the entire cast and crew whose merry mood/antics throughout create more than ample sparks.
The actors playing the Ricardos and the Mertzes: Bill Mendieta (Ricky), Sirena Irwin (Lucy), Lisa Joffrey (Ethel) and Bill Chott (Fred) give their all to the characters without aiming for direct impersonation. Chott, for example, is much bigger in size than William Frawley, and would never be a Fred Mertz impersonator, but he conveys Fred's stern, colorless, stingy attitude to the letter. Mendieta, handsome, though ressembling Keanu Reeves more than Desi Arnaz, gives the essence of the Cuban accent without going overboard. Irwin does have Ball's facial expressions down pat. As actors, they are all terrific, but if you are fans of the originals, do not expect impressions! Appreciate them for their own originality within the work. The actors apart from the leads are simply fantastic, with Amy Tolsky stealing her scenes as a matronly Illinois housewife who sits in the audience and participates in the Lucy Trivia Quiz on stage, winning a year's supply bottle of Halo shampoo. Her laugh is so spontaneous and genuine, she has everyone in stitches. Kudos as well to Mark Christopher Tracy as the host, Denise Moses, Ed Martin, who does a great Frank Nelson voice as the eye doctor, Tom Christensen as King Katt Walsh, Lucy's jitterbug instructor - some slick acrobatic moves, singer Gregory Franklin, who also plays talent scout William Parker, Noel Britton, Cindy Sciacca, Gina Torrecilla and Keri-Anne Lavin. These people do super-satisfying work essaying commercials like Alka Seltzer, Mr. Clean, Brylcream and Chevrolet, and four of them singing as the Crystal Tones. When was the last time you heard "Glow Worm"?
The two original Lucy episodes "The Benefit" and "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined", by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr. are judiciously reproduced for the filming, but assuredly what goes on in between the takes is as much if not more fun than the actual filming. Lucy and Ethel do go up on a line, which requires a retake, and Sparks inventively illustrates how a signature was written on a poster with a standin duplicating Lucy's hand movement. Great fun!
Wayne Moore is the effervescent musical director guiding the wonderful six-piece band, Aaron Henderson has scrupulously replicated the sets for Lucy and Ricky's first NY apartment and the Club Babaloo. Shon LeBlanc's 50s costumes are colorful and period exact. But once again it is Rick Sparks' vision that makes the show work on such a high level. It is delicious to see Amy Tolsky and Denise Moses, just to take an example, circulate amongst the audience members before the show in period costumes, greeting and making us feel part of the place and time. Sparks' meticulous vision begins there and as to the rest...well, you'll just have to go and see for yourselves, now won't you? ...Yehss!