BWW Reviews: I LOVE LUCY LIVE ON STAGE: Recreation of the Classic Sitcom is Pure Kitsch
Everyone's favorite redhead, her Cuban bandleader husband and the couple's nosy neighbors are brought back to life in I LOVE LUCY LIVE ON STAGE, which kicked off its nationwide tour last night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
The concept is simple: It's 1952, and the entire audience is inside the Desilu Playhouse in California, settling in to watch the filming of two episodes of their favorite TV comedy. Costumed performers mingle with cell phone-weilding audience members, remarking that the gadgets "look like something out of Buck Rogers."
I LOVE LUCY LIVE ON STAGE tries to replicate the experience of those old TV show shoots. Show runner Maury Jasper (Mark Christopher Tracy) warms up the audience, singers entertain during set and costume changes, and commercials are performed live---the life-size tube of Brylcreem and the tap-dancing Speedy Alka-Selzer mascot are goofy fun. There's even a quiz portion of the filming, between an enthusiastic, pants-clad audience member and a costumed performer who gets a big, well-deserved laugh when she looks her opponent up and down and sneers, "Did you not have a skirt to wear?"
The two episodes presented originally aired as part of the first and second season and both explore one of the running plotlines of the TV show: Lucy tries to break into show biz. In "The Benefit", Ethel wants Ricky to perform at her women's club fundraiser, but getting Ricky is of course contingent on Lucy performing as well. In "Lucy Gets Her Eyes Examined", Lucy learns the jitterbug to audition for a part in Ricky's friend's new musical, but a visit to the eye doctor right before her performance at the Tropicana leaves her vision so blurry she can hardly see where she's dancing.
Watching I LOVE LUCY LIVE ON STAGE is a much different experience from watching the real show on TV. Firmly planted in 2014, but watching this live recreation that attempts to transport the audience back 62 years to 1952, one wonders if people then were really that innocent, that corny or that formal---did middle class men really relax at home wearing ties and smoking jackets? Seen through modern eyes there's a lot of kitsch, but despite its shortcomings, I LOVE LUCY ON STAGE is also a lot of fun.
Period costumes, wigs and make-up help Lucy and Ethel look their parts, but that's about as deep as it goes. Ethel Mertz (Lori Hammel) for some reason has a southern accent, odd since Ethel is from Albuquerque. Thea Brooks' gets a lot of things right as Lucy Ricardo---the signature expression when she's been caught in a scheme, the klutzy dance numbers, the horrible, off-key singing. But she lacks Lucy's vulnerability, the very thing that makes the TV audience love her so much. Brooks' portrayal of Lucy is fraught with an off-putting haughtiness that makes one wonder why Ricky puts up with her. Kevin Remington fares better as Fred Mertz, he looks and sounds like the curmudgeonly, vaudeville-loving landlord.
But the show belongs to Euriamis Losada. The Miami native was a popular and critically acclaimed actor, winning two Carbonell Awards for Best Actor in a Musical for BAT BOY and JEKYLL & HYDE, before he moved to Los Angeles several years ago. Not only does Losada play the real-life role of Local Boy Makes Good, but he nails the on stage role of Ricky Ricardo so precisely, it's as if he were channeling Desi Arnaz.
Losada not only looks the part, but he embodies Desi/Ricky's easy-going, yet sexy demeanor. Whether he's scolding Lucy, belting out "Babalu" or smoldering his way through a conga solo, this is a role he was born to play, and plays the hell out of it. He's worth the price of admission.
I LOVE LUCY LIVE ON STAGE runs through Sunday, October 5 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. For tickets and more info, visit www.arshtcenter.org