Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“I Love Lucy” Live on Stage

Ah, nostalgia! Most of us have fond memories of the early days of television and some of the first sit-coms we viewed. Now, I am going back more than a few years. Back to the days when TV shows were filmed in a studio with a live audience in black and white and no announcements had to be made to the audience about turning off cell phones ( as there was no such thing). They did have to tell people not to take pictures, but the size of the cameras pretty much gave them away. The year is 1952 and instead of the Broadway In Chicago Playhouse, just off  Michigan Avenue, we are at The Desilu Studios in California getting to watch our tv favorites Desi Arnez aka Ricky Ricardo ( played with just the right Cuban flavor by Bill Mendieta) and Lucille Ball aka Lucy Ricardo ( Sirena Irwin must have truly studied the late,great Ms Ball as she has every step down to perfection) do two episodes from their classic show “I Love Lucy”. Of course we have Fred and Ethel Mertz, their landlords/best friends and straight men for their comedy. Joanna Daniels does a lovely turn as Ethel, but didn’t seem quite as natural as the other players and Curtis Pettyjohn not only looks like Bill Frawley his movement and voice made you recall some of his great one liners.

Staged and directed by Rick Sparks who has added new material with Kim Flagg on a set designed to be that of a television studio and what appears to be complete copies of the sets on the show- their apartment and Ricky’s Tropicana Nightclub. The apartment is much more realistic than the club . The show is made up of two actual episodes, “The Benefit” and “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined”, both of which were written by her staff writers, Jess Oppenheimer,Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll ,Jr.- names that were well known in the industry. While there was a lot of humor in theste episodes, they are nothing compared to what we have today, but these were simpler times and we didn’t expect as much on our large screen 21″ black and white television set. What makes this show fun is the behind the scenes look we get as our host, Maury Jasper ( deftly handled by local actor Ed Kross, who has done the host thing before only on radio in earlier year. He is always a hoot and although I am sure there is a script, appears to be playing off the audience as if his part was ad-lib). He works and speaks wit the audience, explains what is going to take place during the 100 minutes we will be there and keeps the show moving.

The rest of the cast are energetic performers who take on a myriad of roles, doing commercials ( Brylcreem,Alka-Seltzer and many more of the oldies), dancing a few numbers of the top tunes of the days. Much of this is done during set changes and costume changes. There is even a contest on “Lucy”  between two audience members. I will tell you that one is actual and the other planted, but a fun scene that will have you laughing. These people work very hard:Ashley Braxton, Lauren Creel, Gregory Franklin, Karl Hamilton, George Keating ( a regular at Marriott), Debbie Laurmand-Blanc ( her Speedy interpretation is adorable),Rebecca Prescott, Sara Sevigny ( another strong comic) and  Richard Strimer ( who does one hell of a jitterbug with Ms. Irwin) They have assemble a group of local actors that will make this production, the Midwest Premiere, outdo the others s, that is for sure. Chicago has talent!

While this is not a show for everyone, those who enjoy nostalgia will find some joy in recalling the simpler times we lived in, when Lucy and Desi were invited into our homes each week and we prepared ourselves in the living room ( we didn’t have dens or family rooms back then) and if we came home late, a snack table was placed in front of  our chairs so we did not miss a second. Yes, we had to sit and watch because we could not record it or wait until it was on “viewers choice”. Even though filmed and cut , when it was on, it was on! Live theater for many is diversion. While this show requires no thinking, it does require a sense of humor, and as hokey as it is, you will find it amusing and the diversion you were seeking.A chance to get away from the stress of the day and have some laughs. If you can recall the “good old days” and would like to “return to yesteryear”, at least for around 100 minutes, you can do so at The Broadway In Chicago Playhouse located at 175 E. Chestnut ( Water Tower Place), just off Michigan Avenue through November 11th with performances as follows:

Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.,Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,Fridays at 7:30 p.m.,Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m.

Tickets range from $23-$65 and can be purchased at any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices,by calling the Broadway In Chicago ticketline at 1-800-775-2000, at all Ticketmaster outlets and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com

There is discounted parking in the Water Tower Place lot ( bring you ticket to the box office for validation) and there are some wonderful dining spots right in the shopping center including several Lettuce Entertain You dining spots.

To see more opinions, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click “I Love Lucy


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