When we watch television shows of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it’s easy to say, ‘that really wasn’t such a long time ago.’ However, when it comes to “I Love Lucy,” which first aired in 1952, well, it really is starting to feel a bit like ancient history.
“The early 1950’s were so vastly different,” says Sirena Irwin, who stars as Lucy Ricardo in the hit production “I Love Lucy,” which opens tonight. Irwin, who spent much of her childhood in Western Massachusetts and is best known for her work as a voice actress, cites elements like the dynamic between the sexes as one of the biggest differences between 1952 and 2013. And then there are the clothes. “They are just beautiful and beautifully constructed. "After [a performance], have audience members who are extraordinarily expressive about how they’d love to wear them!”
The stage production of “I Love Lucy” recreates the world of the Desilu Playhouse, where classic episodes were originally filmed in the '50s. Rather than focus on the real-life stories of stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez (the production only has the rights to the TV characters), the show transports its crowd into the studio audience while actual episodes of “I Love Lucy” are being filmed. Irwin and co-star Bill Mendieta (as Ricky) lead the cast as they recreate the live shooting of noted episodes, complete with the Cuban sounds of “The Ricky Ricardo Orchestra” and intermittent commercial jingles performed by the Crystaltone Singers.
If you’re not familiar with the original show, which starred one of the most groundbreaking and iconic female comics television has ever seen, you’re not alone. Irwin admits that she was only slightly familiar with the work of Lucille Ball until she experienced a huge dose of kismet in a class with actress Paula Stewart, who played Ball’s little sister in “Wildcats” on Broadway.
“She said to me, ‘you really should check out ‘I Love Lucy’ because there is something that is ringing a bell with you and Lucille,'” recounts Irwin of her encounter with Stewart. “And shortly thereafter I got the audition for the show. [Stewart] even called me up after she saw the show and said ‘this is too insane for coincidence. I think it’s pretty weird that Lucille was one of my best friends and that you’re somebody that I love and now you’re playing [her]!'”
But getting acquainted with Lucy has been more than just laughs for Irwin. Ball's irrepressible personality has begun to seep into her own.
“I certainly do a lot more ‘ewwws’ than I ever did before,” jokes the actor. “I can’t believe I ever got through my life without having that expression!”
As anyone who loves the show can attest, whatever Lucy was feeling, she couldn’t help but show it.
“The thing I love so much about Lucy Ricardo is her willingness and desire to just feel very full of life. She has this incredible willingness to go anywhere and try anything," says Irwin.
If you go
Through Dec. 22 Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre 106 Boylston St, Boston $24-$996, 617-482-9393 citicenter.org