I LOVE LUCY: LIVE ON STAGE
Pictured: Sirena Irwin
Special to TorSun
18 OCT 2013
TORONTO - At some point in each of our lives, we’ve all loved Lucy, or more specifically, the late Lucille Ball, the flame-haired queen of comedy whose reign over the golden age of television started, fittingly enough, with a little show called I Love Lucy. Today, Lucy still lives in golden memories, re-runs and YouTube clips, but for theatre maker Rick Sparks, apparently, that’s just not enough. So, he’s acquired the rights to two episodes of Ball’s ground-breaking sitcom and with the help of collaborator Kim Flagg, adapted them as a stage show titled I LOVE LUCY: LIVE ON STAGE, currently on the boards at the Royal Alexandra Theatre under the Mirvish imprimatur.
The two episodes — The Benefit and Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined — have been recreated as a live taping, complete with an unctuous emcee (well played by Mark Christopher Tracy), back-up singers and even the obligatory flashing “Applause” sign. After the audience has been suitably ‘fluffed’ by Tracy, the taping commences in CBS studios cheesily recreated by Aaron Henderson, with Sirena Irwin playing Lucy, Bill Mendieta playing Ricky, Kevin Remington playing Fred, and Joanna Daniels playing Ethel.
And let’s be clear here, that’s who they are playing, for the names Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are never mentioned — even a certain Chevrolet pitch mistress (who was in fact a staple on NBC), appears under the moniker Dinah ‘Beach.’ And for a little while, it all kind of works, at least on the nostalgic level, although the audience plants and the silly bonhomie start to wear a trifle thin pretty rapidly.
And as the 100-minute show drags on, one starts to realize that there’s a whole lot of impersonation going on up on stage — and very little acting, at least of the commendable kind. Through the magic of make-up, Irwin has been tricked out as some sort of broad caricature of the woman she is playing and she even manages moments where she successfully mimics some of that beloved actor’s moves. But finally, ironically, she works so hard to capture a few moments of acting like Lucille Ball that she fails to even come close to reacting like her — and it was in Ball’s reactions that her brand was born.
Under Sparks’ direction, Mendieta, Remington and Daniels seem trapped in a similar box as Ricky, Fred and Ethel, utterly failing to capitalize in any way on moments where they’ve been given an opportunity to show us the actors behind the characters. In an attempt to enliven the growing tedium, Flagg and Sparks throw in re-creations of period commercials and even a fake trivia contest, but in the end, it all adds up to something distinctly underwhelming. For anybody who really did love Lucy, this isn’t “Live On Stage,” but merely “Going Through The Motions.”