Los Angeles Theater Review: I LOVE LUCY®: LIVE ON STAGE (Greenway Court Theatre)

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by Jeanne Hartman on November 22, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

BLACK-AND-WHITE MEMORIES IN LIVING COLOR

Whether you had viewed the original airings of I Love Lucy or discovered the show during the thousands of reruns, it is undeniable that the breakthrough comedy has a multi-generational appeal. Not only is it fun to watch Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred in that familiar apartment every week, but it is strangely comforting as well; at the end of each half hour, we knew that Lucy and Ricky would always make up and everything would be fine with this quartet.

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage at the Greenway Court Theatre - Los Angeles Theater Review by Jeanne HartmanDirector Rick Sparks (co-adapting with Kim Flagg) creates a beautiful first-class homage to the 179 television episodes by crafting a stylized depiction of a filming before a studio audience. I Love Lucy: Live On Stage was an uncanny experience of instant recall, inciting a flashback to when my own family gathered together in front of our first black and white TV set to watch the iconic comedy. In a current world of everything Kardashian, Survivor meanness, and the Lohan’s familial dysfunctions, the creators wisely do not use this format as a tell-all of the stars’ warts, but rather concentrate on the joy of watching a beloved television show being shot in the once prominent 1951 Desilu Studio. The attention to detail in the small Greenway Court Theatre — a vintage camera taken from an audience member, the reenactment of famous commercials — helps the audience to nostalgically join the spirit of the times. It truly is one of the most satisfying evenings in the theater you can have (it’s with good reason that the show continually sells out).

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage at the Greenway Court Theatre - Los Angeles Theater Review by Jeanne HartmanAt the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, the minute you step into the theater’s courtyard, it seems like everyone there is excited and, yes, even happy. In this day and age, that is quite unusual. The producers and the Greenway Arts Alliance know their crowd and make sure everyone is welcomed in an energetic, optimistic way. The front-of-the-house folks are dressed in 1950s attire and Lucy memorabilia is displayed everywhere (just in time for holiday shopping, coincidentally).

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage at the Greenway Court Theatre - Los Angeles Theater Review by Jeanne HartmanThe first person we meet as spectators settle into their seats is an “audience member” (Amy Tolsky) who is dressed in a remarkably bright-red, mid-century ensemble topped off with a bird in her fashionable vintage hat. Once the house lights dim after she mingles and chats among the guests, Ms. Tolsky is chosen for an I Love Lucy quiz contest led by the playful host and stage manager (Mark Christopher Tracy), who guides the audience through the process of a television shooting with humor, charm, and energy. In this age of warm-up comedians who step over the line of decorum, his style is refreshing. What a relief that this studio audience was not manipulated to force a guffaw at unfunny material as modern sit-coms do.

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage at the Greenway Court Theatre - Los Angeles Theater Review by Jeanne HartmanThe quartet of actors playing Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred do not attempt to imitate the famous foursome, yet they each bring special and unique attributes that immediately identify the character they are playing. As Lucy, Sirena Irwin combines the class and grace of the real Lucille Ball with the comic timing and physical gymnastics that personified Lucy McGillicuddy Ricardo. This actress uses her huge eyes and rubber-like, extremely facile facial movements to create a remarkable spirit of Lucy. As Ricky, Bill Mendieta nails that wonderful hilarious accent of Ricky Ricardo as well as bringing down the house with his rendition of the infamous “Babalu,” complete with two bongo players from his orchestra (music director Wayne Moore arranged the music and matches the television show with perfect authenticity).

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage at the Greenway Court Theatre - Los Angeles Theater Review by Jeanne HartmanLisa Joffrey and understudy Michael Dempsey are the charming actors who portray Vivian Vance and William Frawley, the experienced character actors who created the famous sidekicks, Ethel and Fred Mertz, that cantankerous yet loving married couple with a lot of mileage.

Also on hand are ensemble members who create memorable comedic supporting roles: Tom Christensen as King Katt Walsh shines in his jitterbug with Lucy, and Denise Moses plays a multitude of small roles — from the tap dancing Speedy Alka Seltzer to a cleaning woman dancing with Ricky at the club. Even the band members are thoroughly involved with the show, reminding us of those musicians who were in the real show with Ricky each week.

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage at the Greenway Court Theatre - Los Angeles Theater Review by Jeanne HartmanThe entire design team met the high bar set by Mr. Sparks: both Aaron Henderson (sets) and Shon LeBlanc (costumes) surpass small theater standards with a sky-scraping level of quality vintage design within the limitations of the size and shape of the venue.

On television, I Love Lucy may be viewed by generations for its entertainment value, but older viewers no doubt sorely miss this era. Even with the military industrial complex, communist witch hunts, racism, and the introduction of consumerism on a mass level, it was an optimistic time, fueled by America’s accomplishments in the first half of the century. But our memories are in black and white. If even for just 90 minutes, I Love Lucy: Live On Stage is a tribute that magically resurrects that can-do spirit of the 1950s, but this time it’s in living color.

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage at the Greenway Court Theatre - Los Angeles Theater Review by Jeanne Hartman

photos by Ed Krieger

I Love Lucy®: Live On Stage
Greenway Court Theatre
EXTENDED to February 26, 2012
continues on tour
for tickets, visit I Love Lucy Live

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Webster December 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Please extend the show…..

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John December 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm

During my visit to Los Angeles, I Love Lucy: Live On Stage was one off my biggest and happiest experiences. I arrived early to the theatre on a stormy evening, but no problem — the actors let me in to wait in the lobby; it was like a warm bath full of memories. I am Dutch and in the 1960s I grew up with Lucy on Saturday night, enjoying a big bowl of peanuts and watching the shows in black-and-white. My evening in that nice little theater in the biggest city in the world was for this man from a tiny country in the world a moment back to his childhood. Greetings and thanks to cast and crew for a lovely evening from Rotterdam, Holland.

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Margaret Johnson May 6, 2012 at 5:44 am

Is it going on the road? Please say yes, I want to take my granddaughter, who is a huge fan.

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Tony Frankel May 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Yes, Margaret, it is opening in Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse on September 12, 2012 and it is scheduled to close on November 11, 2012. Go to Broadway in Chicago for info.

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