If it has been gnawing at you since 1953 that you missed your big chance to go to the CBS Desilu Studios in Hollywood and watch a live taping of I Love Lucy, take heart: Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre now has the next best thing.
I Love Lucy Live On Stage recreates that “filmed before a live studio audience” experience. It comes complete with TV cameras, a giddy on-stage announcer, live commercials and, just in case you aren’t paying attention, a blinking neon “applause” sign.
Audiences at the Hippodrome should not need any mechanical prompting.They are lapping up every sweet, recycled minute of this slick national tour. No Sing-Along Sound of Music for this crowd if they can Mouth-Along with Lucy.
Actually, there is a fair amount of music in the evening — yes, including Ricky Ricardo and his orchestra performing his big “Babalu” number. There’s also the spectacle of Fred and Ethel Mertz in “jazz age” collegiate garb doing “The Varsity Drag” as though vaudeville never died.
If second-hand nostalgia isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps you will relate to little “Speedy Alka-Seltzer” doing a dance to indigestion, or the Crystaltones quartet vocalizing the Brylcreem jingle (“a little dab will do ya”), or “Miss Dinah Beach” blowing kisses and singing “see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet!”
The bulk of the show, which was originally staged by Rick Sparks in Los Angeles in 2011, is made up of two vintage episodes of I Love Lucy. The first involves Lucy’s promise to neighbor Ethel Mertz that she will somehow get husband Ricky to agree to performing in Ethel’s charity event. The second involves Lucy and the Mertzes conniving their way into auditions for a Broadway producer.
Ever notice that the only paper these two couples ever read is Variety? Fitting, then, that I Love Lucy Live On Stage is really about nothing but the business of show business — sales pitches, subterfuges, costumes and the inevitable on-stage mishaps. If you’re looking for more universal themes or intimate insights into the real-life personalities behind Lucy, this is not that show.
On the other hand, if you appreciate live variety performers, the Hippodrome has a houseful of good ones. As Lucy Ricardo, Thea Brooks looks more like Eve Arden than Lucille Ball, but she comically captures the redhead’s famous facial contortions and vocal mannerisms. She gets every one of her intended laughs, and does a mean jitterbug duet with the evening’s liveliest hep cat, Richard Strimer.
Personable Euriamis Losada makes for an equally adept Ricky Ricardo. He gets the night’s biggest burst of applause with his catch phrase, “You’ve got some ’splaining to do.” He also sings and plays the congas almost as well as the original.
Lori Hammel’s Ethel and Kevin Remington’s Fred are not as warmly indelible as their sometimes prickly prototypes. But both manage to convey the easy-going affability of the two neighbors and emerge as true troopers in that vaudeville routine.
Mark Christopher Tracy as the Desilu Studio announcer keeps the whole production on track, even ad libbing wittily with an audience volunteer pulled up on stage for a Lucy trivia contest. (Hint: If you know Lucy Ricardo’s maiden name you are a good candidate for the game.
The various singers and dancers in the supporting cast handle all the ad jingles, novelty dances and character roles with professional polish to spare. It’s also fun to see the full-color recreation of the Ricardos’ 1950s-era apartment as provided by Scenic Designer Aaron Henderson. The live musical direction of Andy Belling is also a prime-time contributor to the overall entertainment success.
I Love Lucy Live on Stage plays through October 26, 2014 at Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (800) 343.3103, or purchase them online.
The I Love Lucy Live on Stage National Tour website.