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Theater review: ‘I Love Lucy Live on Stage’ at Greenway Court

November 28, 2011 |  3:03 pm

I Love Lucy_1NC
One of the best sightseeing bets in town is attending a taping of “I Love Lucy Live on Stage." As a member of the live Desilu Studios audience, you get to see what goes into making this hit TV show that’s destined to become a comedy classic -- mark my words.

A ticket gets you into the "filming" of two actual “I Love Lucy”  episodes. Part of the fun is the pretense that the starring roles are being performed by stand-ins.

Though supposedly played by Sirena Irwin, there’s no mistaking the pitch-perfect authenticity of Lucy Ricardo’s signature fluttering eyelids, plaintive wails, distracted nail biting and jaw-clenched grimaces — this sure feels like the hilarious real deal. Bill Mendieta’s Ricky has lost a little weight (probably from being wrapped around Lucy’s finger so often), but his exasperated, mangled pronunciation hasn’t changed, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else belting out “Babalu” like he does with his seven-piece Tropicana club band. Naturally, sidekicks Fred and Ethel Mertz (Bill Chott, Lisa Joffrey) are on hand for Lucy’s backfiring antics.

Both of the episodes I caught involved Lucy’s insatiable desire to  break into showbiz. In “The Benefit,” she wheedles Ricky into performing for a women’s club, then inserts herself into the act to upstage him. Later, when “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined,” she’s blinded by dilating eyedrops just before her jitterbug audition number for a hotshot producer. Screwball jokes, catchy songs and terrific dancing — these episodes have it all. I hear director Rick Sparks is such a perfectionist that he shoots each one more than once just to be safe, so you’ll probably get to see these episodes, too-- the current shooting schedule has just been extended through Feb. 26

Genial host Mark Christopher Tracy takes you behind the scenes, explaining the use of Applause signs, insertion shots and the multi-camera setup developed by Desilu. During breaks in the filming, the Crystaltone Singers perform the latest jingles from show sponsors — no matter how many times you hear “A little dab'll do ya” and “Relief is just a swallow away” commercials, there’s nothing quite like seeing them live.

The black-and-white world we know so well from our TV sets explodes in living color in Aaron Henderson’s fabulous scenic designs, and Shon LeBlanc’s costumes are so in vogue it feels like 1954 is just around the corner.

RELATED:

A colorful salute to 'I Love Lucy'

-– Philip Brandes

“I Love Lucy Live on Stage,” Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays (dark Dec. 24 and 25 and some other dates). Ends Feb. 26. $45. (800) 595-4849 or www.ilovelucylive.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Sirena Irwin and Bill Mendieta as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in "I Love Lucy Live on Stage." Credit: Ed Krieger.

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