"I Love Lucy" Love on Stage (Broadway in Chicago): 50s Comedy Flashback

"I Love Lucy" Love on Stage (Broadway in Chicago):   50s Comedy Flashback

Reviewed by Jeanette Hamel

“Why is I Love Lucy the most successful show of all time... it's because the principles are timeless including comedy, laughter, love and friendship. There's something inside of them that's inside of all of us."--Desi Arnaz, Jr.

I grew up watching “I Love Lucy reruns,” and I am still watching them. On any given day, my husband can walk into our family room, see me immersed in an “I Love Lucy” marathon and ask: “Have you seen this one?”  To which, while I try unsuccessfully NOT to roll my eyes, I always reply:  “I’ve seen them ALL…many, many times.”

I was as excited as a little kid going to see “Elmo Live” to be able to see my favorite show LIVE.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew, if they were true to Desi Arnaz’ quote, I would absolutely LOVE it!  And I did.  I didn’t love it for its deep and meaningful dialogue – it didn’t have any.  I didn’t love it for its suspense and drama – it didn’t have any of that either.  It was actually fairly predictable, covering the reenactment of the taping of two very familiar shows.  Which is exactly why I found silly pleasure in laughing at lines that I have heard many times before.  I was sharing a “moment” with 500 other “I Love Lucy” fans, and we were all happy to pretend for a minute that life was as simple and unpretentious as a 1950’s “I Love Lucy” show.  In spite of a large age difference in the audience, everyone laughed generously as Lucy and cast delivered their 60 year old dialogue…it is still hugely funny and has endured the test of time.

The cast helped the audience take the 60 year trip back in time effortlessly.  Greeted in the lobby by Mrs. Eugenia Swanson in her Kenosha Cherry covered dress and Mrs. Beulah Figg wearing her stuffed pets around her neck, it became easy to believe that we, the “Live Studio Audience,” were actually viewing the taping of two “I Love Lucy” episodes complete with ensemble commercial performances.  Maury Jasper, our Desilu Playhouse host, helped us settle in with instructions to clap and laugh “spontaneously” when the large “APPLAUSE” sign was lit – and of course at any other time we liked. This was an unnecessary directive, as the entire studio audience enthusiastically participated even without the sign.

The main cast of Lucy, Desi, Ethel and Fred did a superb job in replicating the iconic foursome in body and spirit.  Lucy was as close to an exact physical replica as can be expected.  Desi’s accent still provided many comical opportunities.  Ethel, bad wig aside, had amazingly correct voice inflections and ugly house frocks.  And Fred wore his pants even higher than one might have thought possible.  They embodied the essence of the original four and didn’t attempt to distract the audience with their “personal interpretations” of the characters.  They delivered exactly what was wanted – “I Love Lucy” just the way we remembered it.

The show was punctuated by several skits/commercials/side shows from the Pleasant Peasants to the commercials from the era.  At times, they generated more laughter than the main storyline.  The Desi Arnaz Orchestra provided some well placed, toe tapping, hot latin music complete with the familiar Desi on bongos and a “Babaloo” or two.

It was a timeless representation of a simpler time.  It was 95 minutes of a very pleasant escape from today.  I enjoyed the escape, and I left feeling that I still Love Lucy.

Running Time:  Ninety- five minutes with no intermission

Broadway Playhouse, Chicago

Broadway in Chicago

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