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On Theater: 'Lucy Live' is lovable as ever

March 19, 2014|By Tom Titus
  • Kevin Remington, as Fred Mertz, left, Sirena Irwin, as Lucy Ricardo, Joanna Daniels, as Ethel Mertz and Bill Mendieta, as Ricky Ricardo perform at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in "I Love Lucy Live on Stage" on Tuesday.
Kevin Remington, as Fred Mertz, left, Sirena Irwin, as… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Anyone who is, shall we say, mature enough to remember television from back in the early 1950s will get an enormous kick out of the current offering at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

"I Love Lucy Live on Stage" takes its audiences back to TV's earliest days when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were breaking ground for televised comedy. Even the commercials are a kick in this kooky creation of writer-director Rick Sparks.

It's 1952 and the Desilu Playhouse is filming two episodes of "I Love Lucy" pretty much as written back then. The show consists of those two half-hour offerings plus some off-camera chatter that will get the audience back on the street before two hours have elapsed (unusual for the center).

The trick, of course, is to get two performers capable of looking and sounding like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, as well as their best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz. And here the producers have struck gold.

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Sirena Irwin, who created the role of Lucy when the show was born in 2011 in Los Angeles, is most assuredly on the Ball, a bit taller and more athletic perhaps, but her comic timing is magical. Irwin sells the role with her outsized reactions, particularly her facial expressions, as she recreates this classic comedian who had but one peer, Carol Burnett, during her illustrious career.

As Ricky, the Cuban bandleader whose accent elicits innumerable laughs, Bill Mendieta fills the bill superbly. Mendieta has captured Arnaz's exasperated mood and style with a splendid comic flourish. (The names "Ball" and "Arnaz" are not uttered in the production; it's strictly "Lucy" and "Ricky.")

The Mertzes are expertly recreated by a rotund Kevin Remington and a sharp-tongued Joanna Daniels — apparently aging way up, if her photo in the program is accurate. They beautifully capture the old-time vaudeville polish of these legendary second bananas.

Backing them up rigorously and setting the early '50s mood with style and verve are a dozen actors in multiple roles, including commercials for Chevrolet, Brylcreem and Alka-Seltzer. The Chevy theme song comes from an actress dubbed "Dinah Beach" (Sarah Elizabeth Combs). Only those of a certain age will recall Dinah Shore singing "See the USA in Your Chevrolet."

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