In a society that is choking on popular culture and throwaway technology, we of the MeTV generation seem desperate to re-create the totems of our youth — and to insist that the youngsters among us appreciate the good old days.
Exhibit A: “I Love Lucy Live on Stage” adds water to the foggy memories of an iconic sitcom and creates some instant nostalgia. For 100 minutes, we are asked to pretend that we are the Desilu Studio audience, watching two episodes of “I Love Lucy” being taped.
Homage, though, is never as sweet as the real thing and this show, which opened a week’s engagement at the State Theatre in Minneapolis on Tuesday, reminds us of the peril of escaping to our past (I learned that on a “Twilight Zone” episode).
Second-grade math will tell you that two episodes of a 30-minute show (minus commercials) adds up to about 45 minutes of material. So what fills out the rest of the evening?
A perfectly smarmy studio announcer (Mark Christopher Tracy) warms us up with inane banter and we get to watch the Crystaltone singers mug their cheeky way through commercials for Brylcreem and Chevrolet. An audience member is dragged up for a “Lucy” quiz. This folderol, intended to be amusing, strikes us as tedious.
Director Rick Sparks and writer Kim Flagg also insert a few tricks to make us feel like we’re really there. Lucy forgets a line and the announcer explains that this is “going up” in showbiz lingo. At another point, we get to watch a stand-in film a cut of Lucy’s arm signing a placard. Sort of interesting, I suppose.
“Lucy” depended greatly on the singular ability of Lucille Ball and the kooky chemistry she shared with Desi Arnaz. Thea Brooks does admirable work in an imitation that finds Lucy’s cadences, her vocal tics, the cry that sounds like an old siren. Her physical acuity shows an admirable attention to detail. And she looks fantastic, particularly in the fashions designed by Shon LeBlanc and Kelly Bailey.
Euriamis Losada mangles the language with Ricky Ricardo’s charm and he sings like an oriole. Yes, he does “Babalu”; yes, he laughs with that hard bark, and yes, he tells Lucy she has some “ ’splainin’ to do” (biggest reaction of the night, even without a laugh track). Kevin Remington conjures the right Fred Mertz gravel to his voice and Lori Hammel is perfect as Ethel.
So why, when all these pieces seem well tuned, does “Lucy Live” land with the thud of a “My Mother the Car” marathon? Partly because it’s so chopped up that we don’t feel the rhythm of the actual TV show. Partly because the chosen episodes are midrangers. No Vitameatavegamin, no Lucy on the chocolate-candy assembly line — nothing that consumes our attention and transports us to the best years of our lives.
As Seinfeld might say, “That’s a shame.”