Adapted for the stage by Kim Flagg and Rick Sparks with original episodes penned by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr. At: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St. Tickets: (800) 775-2000 or www.broadwayinchicago.com; $23-$65. Runs through: Nov. 11
There's a massive audience to be tapped for the Chicago premiere of I Love Lucy Live on Stage, now at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place through Nov. 11.
The beloved TV sitcom I Love Lucy only ran from 1951 to 1957, but it's safe to say that the show never went away, thanks to its constant reruns in syndication. So generations have fallen in love with Lucille Ball and her (then-) husband Desi Arnaz as the wacky show-biz couple Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.
I Love Lucy Live on Stage played a smash sold-out run in Los Angeles last year, and the show is already doing such brisk business in Chicago that my advice for die-hard fans is to get your tickets nowthere's almost no chance for an extension. As for regular theatergoers who might be on the fence about going, let's just say that I Love Lucy Live on Stage is enjoyable mostly as a heaping dose of 1950s U.S. pop-culture nostalgia.
Director Rick Sparks teamed with Kim Flagg to wisely frame the show as a two-episode filming day at the Desilu Playhouse in California circa 1956, complete with an emcee who explains the backstage business (a very engaging and funny ad-libber in Ed Kross), and a great singing and dancing ensemble of "Crystaltone Singers" to perform period ad jingles and act as guest sitcom artists. This makes the show more of an all-around entertainment occasion with great music and dancing, rather than just re-creating TV episodes you could readily watch at home on DVD.
Now be warned that the show is not entirely historically accurate. Some cameramen disappear to double up as the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra by the second episode, and the commercials might not always match ones tied to the original broadcasts of I Love Lucy. (Phillip Morris was a major sponsor of the program, but we don't get to see Lucy or Ricky light up on stage.)
Yet, most fans probably won't care since the cast of I Love Lucy on Stage does such a dependable job. Sirena Irwin has Lucy's liquid-limber moves and tantrum whine down pat, as does Bill Mendieta with Ricky's thick Cuban accent. Curtis Pettyjohn and Joanna Daniels are also great as the neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz.
Yet there's a slight stilted nature to the episode scenes, since the actors know they can't stray too far from the originals. Even the addition of a flubbed line feels planned instead of spontaneous.
But in terms of lovingly jogging the nostalgic memories of audiences of a certain age, I Love Lucy Live on Stage certainly succeeds with a slickly produced and enjoyably performed show.