Everybody Loves Lucy (QPAC and Luckiest Productions)
QPAC, Cremorne Theatre
February 24 – 27
“Be a clown. Be a clown. All the world loves a clown.” So sings Lucille Ball (Elise McCann) as she bursts onto stage in “Everybody Loves Lucy”, black-toothed and dressed in shabby clown garb tribute to Judy Garland’s iconic routine from 1948’s “The Pirate”. And of course she is right, for everyone loves Lucille Ball, the zany ‘50s sitcom star who changed the way women were permitted to be portrayed on television.
Immediately it is clear that this is not a cabaret in the conventional sense. The stage is set for a tv show, complete with ‘on air’ and ‘applause’ overhead lights. And so we are introduced to Lucy the star, playing alongside her real life, thickly-accented Cuban husband Desi Arnaz (played to great comic effect by Musical Director Nigel Ubrihien who also assumes a number of other supporting character roles). As complement, these scenes are punctuated by some ‘backstage’ glimpses and also reaction from one of her adoring fans, also played by McCann, highlighting the huge role model that Lucy became to a generation of American women.
McCann is a versatile performer and the script, which she co-wrote with Richard Carroll, affords her ample opportunity to showcase her talents. She is in fine voice in her musical delivery, whether it be the bubbliness of Bing Crosby’s ‘You Don’t Have to Know the Language’ or the balladry of Perry Como’s ‘Make Someone Happy’, revealing the real, reflective vulnerability behind the comedienne’s smile. Her comic timing and physical comedy are the real treat. Like Lucille Ball, she is not afraid to look undignified (#inagoodway) and while there may not be grape crushing chaos or conveyer belts of chocolate, this is still captured with scenes such as Lucy’s attempts to hone her ballet skills, paying homage to many of the sitcom’s iconic moments. Indeed, the highlight has to be her advertising spots, where she hilariously tries to sell products such as health tonic (a tribute to the show’s Vitameatavegamin episode). In every instance, McCann exudes Ball’s natural sass in movement and trademark voice in exaggerated reaction, bringing to wonderful life the fast-paced, witty words of the onstage husband-wife banter.
The show begins in the early 1950s with Ball and Arnaz working together on the launch of the TV show and ends a decade later with the end of their real life marriage. It is a short, sharp and spirited hour of energy that will have you yearning for more, such is the enigmatic nature of the late star. As the first woman to be a studio executive and the first woman to be visibly pregnant on television, Lucille Ball is a fascinating subject, providing ample fodder for a cabaret tribute of this sort. And “Everybody Loves Lucy” certainly succeeds in showing her duality as it conveys the suffering of the woman, wife, mother and hardworking perfectionist behind the apparently effortless, spontaneous comedienne, a reality which only makes us love Lucy even more.