Everybody Loves Lucy
QPAC & Luckiest Productions
February 24 – 27 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Lucille Ball? Game changer. Yeah, you know her. Actually, when I asked around at school, the kids didn’t know her. That made me feel old. She’s the funny female figure stomping grapes in a barrel, on the TV screen in the hotel room as Julia Roberts sprawls across the carpet eating strawberries and laughing her head off in Pretty Woman. Oh, right. You never saw Pretty Woman either… THAT makes me feel really old!
Everybody Loves Lucy, directed by Helen Dallimore, and penned by the star of the show, Elise McCann, and Luckiest Productions’ Richard Carroll, is not quite all it wants to be yet, but it IS entertaining and enlightening; it’s a lovely, light evening of expert impersonation and an old school celebrity reality television story. I’d be interested to see the role in the hands of Francine Cain who, in lieu of a McCann Clone, is also touring the show (Go see her on the Gold Coast March 2). I guess we’re accustomed to multiple companies touring the same show on a grander scale (think of Wicked’s nine professional productions at any one time in the world!), but not so the smaller cabaret pieces and this is testament to the show’s instant popularity, and the good business sense of Luckiest Productions.
McCann MAKES this show and it’s just as well! After all, what use is a tribute if there is no similarity between the performer and the original artist? Here’s an artist who presents the iconic comedienne in minute detail; the characterisation both “on air” and off is exquisitely studied and presented with skill and finesse. We get all the comedy, but we are also gifted with an insight into the imagined mental and emotional state, first through song and then, intermittently, via the musings of an ordinary housewife and mother, who enjoys her gin and represents US ALL. ALTHOUGH, I DON’T DO GIN. (I did it once. Try everything once, right?). A very clever device, this character keeps us in the political-social loop as the times rapidly change and women everywhere followed Lucy’s lead in the pursuit of independent work and play.
The physical comedy is natural and bold, the facial expressions hilarious (THE WINK!), and the voice lilts and builds and holds and diminishes to a whisper, as the storytelling requires. Joined by multi-talented Musical Director, Nigel Ubrihien, who appears on stage as Desi Arnaz (he’s fantastic – I would like to have seen him reappear as Desi by the end so our “on air” couple could give us that last look), McCann takes us through years of television sitcom success. We also see, on the other side of the camera, the couple’s failed marriage, despite every effort to keep up appearances. It’s the classic balance of comedy and tragedy, drawn from real life, making it all the more devastating.
The sadness emanating from the dressing room would get you down without the clowning; succinct excerpts from the original skits, which punctuate the storytelling and remind us that it was Desi who called the shots but Lucy who delivered the goods. And these scenes are so good because McCann embraces each one as if it had always been her own story. The comedy is completely natural, with the ballet lesson bringing the house down, and the Vitameatavegamin commercial taking the cake. This is McCann at her comical best!
In complete contrast, she sings lovingly to her baby in utero. It’s a simply played and suitably stunning moment, and she takes her time with it, thank goodness. When the performer is confident enough to make us wait while she takes her time to work through many layers of conflicting emotions we are also able to invest more deeply in character. We travel with McCann, on a journey that takes her far away from where she started. So far away, in fact, that we end up seeing the ordinary housewife and mother again! This doesn’t work as well as somebody (everybody) had probably hoped it would. On opening night it meant that the mood fell flat, and I thought, “It’s just me” until I spoke with a couple of normal people (ie not industry types. Ready, normal people?!), who were not sure how they felt about the show by the end of it! One of them had expected hilarity for the finish, and another had been waiting for another (funny) song. Oh well. All you gotta’ do is make one person happy, right?
I’m reluctant to say it – I wanted to be blown away by this production – but for me the show doesn’t quite hit the mark. It has all the elements, but despite its fluid transitions and a story mostly well told, there’s some flow lacking in the structure. The opening number, Make ‘Em Laugh, lacks punch and feels like it hits us before we’re ready for it (are we really not quite ready for it?!). With the beautiful blend of comedy and potential for tears, it quickly makes up some ground, but goes awry again with a television interview in an attempt to neatly wrap up the narrative. Clearly, audiences everywhere (else) LOVE IT! (NOOSA AUDIENCES WOULD LOVE IT!).
It’s McCann’s performance I adore; it’s perfectly pitched, and delivered with all the highs and lows to crack open our hearts. McCann makes us remember why everybody loves Lucy.
Final shows today (Thursday February 26) at 1:30pm & 6:30pm and tomorrow (Friday February 27) at 1:30pm & 7pm.