“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” — Marcel Proust
We’re pretty sure Proust never saw “I Love Lucy: Live on Stage.” But if he had, it would have reinforced that sentiment of his, written in the early part of the last century.
The production, now on stage at Centennial Hall until Sunday, isn’t bad. In fact, those longing for those early days of television are likely to love the kind-of-kitschy show.
It is set up as though we were at a studio taping of two “I Love Lucy” episodes, “Benefit” and “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined.”
It’s packed with singing commercials straight out of ’50s TV, a host delivering pump-the-audience-up banter, priming them for the main dish (OK, that still happens at TV tapings today), and actors that help us relive the days of screwball Lucy, her ever-suffering husband, Ricky, and their neighbors Fred and Ethel.
There are all the markers there: Lucy often wails “Ohhh Ricky.” Ricky sings “Babalu.” Ethel encourages Lucy and gets in trouble with her. Fred is a bit of a stingy curmudgeon.
But the show is kind of soulless.
You see that especially in a scene that recreates line flubs that actually occurred. People love to see actors make mistakes — that’s why outtakes are a big hit. But what we love about them is their spontaneity, their glimpse into the actors as real people, and how cleverly they pull themselves out of it.
Here, that actual flub from the “Lucy Has her Eyes Examined” episode is recreated, and its execution only underscores the fact that we are watching a shadow of the original.
This isn’t to say the show is bad — it’s not. It’s loaded with talent. Sirena Irwin is funny, graceful and oozing energy in her role as Lucy, originally played by Lucille Ball. Bill Mendieta’s Ricky is charming, handsome, and oh-so-exasperated with Lucy in the role first created by Desi Arnaz. Kevin Remington and Joanna Daniels convincingly evoke the memories of Fred and Ethel Mertz, first brought to life by William Frawley and Vivian Vance.
The show is so faithful to the original that we even get the commercials. And what commercials. The ’50s were packed with ads with jingles — for Brylcreem, a pomade for men (“Brylcreem, just a little dab will do ya”); Chevrolet (“See the USA in your Chevrolet”) and Mr. Clean (“Mr. Clean will clean your whole house, and everything that’s in it”) among them. And there’s a live band for both the commercials and Ricky’s nightclub scenes.
But what was wonderful about the old “I Love Lucy” shows — the vibrancy, the intimacy, the freshness — is just not there.
It’s fun, sure. But it ain’t “I Love Lucy.”