BWW Review: No 'splainin' needed: I Love Lucie
An Afternoon with Lucie Arnaz
Sunday, April 21, 2013 at Reagle Music Theatre, Robinson Theater, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.org
Pardon my gush: I love Lucie! Beginning with the 16 mm black and white home movies of herself, her younger brother Desi Arnaz, Jr., and their famous parents Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, An Afternoon with Lucie Arnaz was a stroll, a song, and a salsa down memory lane that focused on her Latin roots. While Lucie appeared on her mother's television show as a child and received the benefit of her comic acting genes, band leader Desi infused their household and his daughter's life with music and his proud Cuban heritage. In an exclusive Boston area appearance at Reagle Music Theatre on Sunday afternoon, Lucie strutted her stuff and proved that she is daddy's little girl.
Backed by a kickass four-piece combo under her music director/pianist of twenty-five years, the composer-arranger-musical genius Ron Abel, Lucie came out in high gear with the first cut from her 2010 "Latin Roots" cd, "You and the Night and the Music," switching from English to Spanish lyrics mid-song. She looked stunning in a simple, above-the-knee, one shoulder, cobalt blue dress that revealed her dancer's legs. Her program featured nine of the fourteen tracks on the cd, including a few that are not Latin, per se, but stand out when arranged with a Brazilian or bossa nova beat. An obvious choice for the set list, "I'll See You in C-U-B-A" was actually written by her father's favorite American composer - Irving Berlin!
Lucie took time to tell the story of her father's life; growing up in Cuba, escaping the dictatorial regime of Batista in 1933 at the age of sixteen, emigrating to Miami, and being discovered by Xavier Cugat. The biographical segment was well-written and well-told, peppered with little Latin ditties that Desi used to sing, as well as an amusing anecdote about her paternal grandmother teaching the Arnaz children how to roll their r's. When Desi died of lung cancer in 1986, Lucie uncovered a cache of cassette tapes that he recorded with his orchestra in the mid-1940s and was, as she said, both transfixed and transported by the amazing sounds. Not long after that, she got serious about putting together an act to pay homage to the senior Arnaz.
"Blame it on the Bossa Nova" fit the mold for the cd, but also resonates with Lucie's personal history and the start of her romance with Laurence Luckinbill, her husband of thirty-three years. She took more steps on the lyrical stroll down memory lane with "Johnny Angel," a so-called "swoon song" introduced by Shelley Fabares on "The Donna Reed Show" in 1962, which was given a new, sultry sensibility with a Brazilian beat. The last three songs were all about Lucie's father: Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band," concluding with a spotlight on Desi's signature straw boater; a pulsating version of "El Cumbanchero" which featured Lucie pounding out a rhythmic beat on the lid of the piano; and "I Love You," a poignant composition by Arnaz that he purportedly wrote for his second wife, but had actually written decades earlier for Lucy.
The program featured two songs penned by Abel and his partner Chuck Steffan that showcased Lucie's versatility. "Until Now" is a fabulous, big band-type tuner that she could swing and belt her way through, and the gentler "Just to Be Near You," with Spanish lyrics added by Oscar Hijuelos (writer of "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love") in which her vibrato sounded eerily like that of her father. In addition to Abel, Tom Hubbard (bass), Ray Marchica (drums), and Emedin Rivera (percussion) comprised the tight combo that played the hell out of Lucie's set list. Kudos to the Reagle Music Theatre crew for artfully synchronizing lights and providing quality sound.
Everything about this production was tight as a (conga) drum and brought us all back to a simpler, happier time when we all pledged allegiance to "I Love Lucy." Lucie briefly acknowledged the events of the past week and thanked everyone for coming out. The audience was certainly in the mood to be entertained and she did not disappoint. Her genes notwithstanding, this woman is a singular talent and radiates genuine warmth for her roots, her family, and her audience. We grew up with her and our home movies look a lot alike. An Afternoon with Lucie Arnaz was a sheer delight and I'm sure no one would have complained if it had stretched into the evening. If she doesn't come back soon, she'll have some 'splainin' to do!