“I Love Lucy Live On Stage” is kitschy fun that could be more fun but hardly more kitschy. Frothy, campy recreation of two episodes of the legendary domestic sitcom, along with commercials and audience participation segments, is currently packing ’em in at the Greenway Court, with helmer-producer Rick Sparks jeopardizing no audience satisfaction by the insertion of too much verisimilitude.
The lobby is an orgy of memorabilia; if there’s a Brylcreem or Alka-Seltzer poster left in any Los Angeles thrift store, it won’t be for the production team’s lack of trying. Inside, genial emcee Mark Christopher Tracy welcomes us to a pair of filmings on two curtained sets, one representing the Tropicana nitery bandstand, the other the Ricardos’ living room at 623 East 68th St.
Grips push cameras around and the applause sign flashes to introduce “The Benefit” and “Lucy Gets Her Eyes Examined”; neither is a deathless classic, but they’re musical enough and limited to the two locales. (Musical director Wayne Moore does an excellent job with his seven-piece orchestra.)
The decor is correct down to the tacky Chinese figurine on Lucy’s mantel, but such realism is only skin deep. Sparks has successfully set out to helm a caricature of the 1950s and not, as they used to say about “Beatlemania,” an “incredible simulation.” Shtick from giddy audience “ringers,” and Tracy’s unctuousness, keep reminding us how superior we are to those naive olden days.
Introduced between episodes, our stars – always addressed as “Ricky” or “Ethel,” not “Desi” or “Vivian,” perhaps for legal reasons – play a fantasy version of gracious Hollywood. No hint of the Arnazes’ marital woes, or Bill Frawley and Vivian Vance’s fabled antagonism, is granted admittance.
The episodes are competently played, though the chemistry is a bit off and probably inevitably so. Lisa Joffrey is about as perfect a stand-in for Ethel Mertz as you could wish, and though Bill Mendieta looks more like Jerry Orbach than Desi (and sings better) he’s got the timing right. But Bill Chott lacks Fred Mertz’ irascibility, while Sirena Irwin’s dead-on physical and vocal resemblance to Gwen Verdon grants too much wicked cunning to ingenuous Lucy.
Here’s the thing. As a time filler, Sparks has his chorines perform the opening “Pleasant Peasant” number from Lucy’s own favorite installment, “The Operetta.” Seen on videotape, the ladies try so hard to be good, they’re hilariously inept. At the Greenway Court, they try so hard to be inept, they’re neither good nor hilarious. That’s the difference between a truly immersive experience and the self-conscious, wink-wink event currently on view.