Is it possible to properly pay homage to the inimitable Lucille Ball? One of the defining female comics — hell, one of the defining comics, male or female — of our time, Lucy was a fiery-haired force of nature. Lucy’s reach was so broad that even this young reviewer (who, full disclosure, was born almost three full decades after “I Love Lucy” went off the air) is familiar with her signature gestures and catchphrases.
“I Love Lucy: Live on Stage” offers an answer to that question: yes. The play transports the audience to the softer, hazy days of yesteryear, when a man’s hair was thick with Brylcream and the raciest thing on the ‘tube was a winking, cheerful innuendo to a housewife’s weakness for a Brylcream man.
It’s 1952, and audience members are part of the studio audience on the set of Desilu Productions, to watch the live taping of two original “I Love Lucy” episodes. It’s a sweet premise, and one that certainly caters to older audience members — of which there were many on openig night — for whom that rosy nostalgia is real. However, the cast and crew commit so fully and enthusiastically to the staging that even those who grew up on reality TV will fall under their spell.
A charming cornball of a host (Mark Christopher Tracy) woos the audience (within whom they’ve planted two “midwestern housewives” in ‘50s frocks who chatter excitedly with those around them to set the scene, pre-show) between episodes, flirting with the housewives and encouraging all to applaud on command.
It's Sirena Irwin as Lucy, however, who steals the show — and aptly so. Irwin wholly embodies Ball, physically and, more impressively, in spirit. This is classic Lucy, bubbly and klutsy one moment, manipulating Ricky (a fine performance by Bill Mendieta) with a charming pout the next. All the while she has the house in the palm of her hand.
As Fred and Ethel, Kevin Remington and Joanna Daniels shine on their own and cede the spotlight to the star couple in equal measure. Between takes, Lucy addresses the audience with cheeky asides and an ensemble cast performs live commercial breaks with flagless energy. Yes, there’s one for Brylcream.
Though the portrayal of these iconic characters is spot-on, in the end, this production is less about mimicking one of the golden era of TV’s most beloved programs and more about invoking the spirit of the era. It succeeds.