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She’s that Cheeky redhead we all know and love, and this time around, she’s in full-color with Broadway In Chicago’s I LOVE LUCY® LIVE ON STAGE. It’s 1952 and you’re a studio audience member seated in the Desilu Playhouse soundstage, anxiously awaiting the filming of two I Love Lucy episodes. Host Maury Jasper (Ed Kross) takes you behind-the-scenes of American television’s most beloved show—complete with hi-fidelity technology, advertising jingles, episode outtakes and, of course, the famous foursome: Lucy (Sirena Irwin), Ricky (Bill Mendieta), Fred (Curtis Pettyjohn) and Ethel (Joanna Daniels).
In the filming of the first episode, “The Benefit,” Lucy is tasked with convincing Ricky to sing at one of Ethel’s benefits, with ulterior motives to steal the spotlight using her less than stellar vocals. Everything from the wide-eyed expressions to the nasally voice to the shoulder-shrugging laugh is spot on, performed zealously by the talented Sirena Irwin. And props to Makeup Designer Stacey Miller and Costume Designer Shon LeBlanc for getting those red lips, batty eyelashes and ‘50′s style just right. Unfortunately, however, the production fails in its attempt to understand the actress herself, Miss Lucille Ball, as there’s no real differentiation between her stage character and the actress as a person. And not enough stage time dedicated to exploring it. In that sense, the productions has got some ‘splainin’ to do.
Ricky’s role, played by Keanu Reeves look-alike Bill Mendieta, also needs a little more punch if he wants to rival the ambitious and quirky Lucy. While Mendieta’s got the accent down pat, his performance feels more like a pawn in Lucy’s game than a starring role. Where’s the fiery Latin temper? Ricky patiently puts up with Lucy’s antics in the second episode, “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined” when he brings home an old friend for dinner: famous Director William Parker. Hilarity ensues when Lucy, Ethel and Fred put on a mini-Broadway production in the Ricardo’s New York City apartment living room. And Ricky himself performs a short time later, gracing the stage as the Cuban sounds of “The Ricky Ricardo Orchestra” fill the Tropicana nightclub—and the full band playing live on stage is quite impressive.
In between filming, the Crystaltone Singers perform nostalgic jingles in pitch-perfect ’50′s style harmony, re-created and written for the stage by Directors Rick Sparks and Kim Flagg. The featured products—Brylcreem, Chevy and Alka-Seltzer—are swirled about, all carefully rotated to stay within the camera frame. And we can’t forget the liter of Halo shampoo that planted audience member Ms. Eugenia Swanson (Sara Sevigny), one of the funniest roles in the production, takes home in a live contest.
I LOVE LUCY® is “the cat’s pajamas’” to say the least. This Broadway In Chicago production reminds us of the powerfully Cheeky chicks that were out there in the ‘50s, doing more than just folding laundry and making their husbands dinner. It’s refreshing to see these bold and hilarious women brought back to stage—and in this case the set, too—over 60 years later.
I LOVE LUCY® plays through Nov. 11 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut Avenue. Order your tickets at www.broadwayinchicago.com.