Starting out as a model, then a chorus girl on Broadway, Lucille Ball soon made the jump to the silver screen. She graduated from a contract player to featured artist at studios such as Samuel Goldwyn, MGM, RKO and Columbia Pictures. For close to 20 years, Ball appeared in movies like Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, Room Service with The Marx Brothers, Du Barry Was A Lady with Red Skelton and Gene Kelly, and Her Husband’s Affairs with Franchot Tone.
Thanks to a solid work ethic and fierce ambition, Ball worked her way up the ladder to become known as the ‘Queen of B Pictures’. She was happy to perform physical stunts that other actresses avoided and as a result, gained a reputation for broad comedy as well.
When her career in film began to plateau, Ball focused more on radio. She was eventually cast as the female lead in My Favorite Husband. The popular CBS program ran for three years and 124 episodes from 1948 until 1951. Soon however, the network wanted to shift the hit series to the new medium of television.
Ball refused, citing that she would only act in a TV show about a married couple if it co-starred her real life husband, Desi Arnaz.
It was a big financial risk for the team. Multicultural relationships had rarely been portrayed, if ever, on television.
Ball and Arnaz pushed the station hard. Would she and her partner, be accepted by American audiences? However, the strategy paid off and I Love Lucy was born.
Both Ball and the Cuban musician and band – leader, had been together as husband and wife since 1940. It is also believed they joined forces on air to save their rocky ten year marriage.
Later, when Ball discovered she was carrying her second child, instead of covering it up, that fact was incorporated into the show. I Love Lucy also became the first series to openly discuss the subject of pregnancy.
Everybody Loves Lucy was written by theatre star, Elise McCann (Mamma Mia, South Pacific) and Richard Carroll. It is a fascinating new presentation that recreates the years Ball and Arnaz worked together, and eventually parted ways on America’s most successful situation comedy.
Currently on tour around Australia, their show forms part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival’s outstanding and diverse 2014 line-up. For those expecting a conventional tribute, take note. Everybody Loves Lucy is less like a variety act, and at 75 minutes in length, is far closer to an intimate book musical.
Mostly told from behind the scenes, McCann also plays the inimitable red head, as well as a housewife devoted to the sitcom.
Supported by musical director, Nigel Ubrihien, on piano, he stars opposite McCann as Arnaz as well as several other supporting characters.
Helen Dallimore was responsible for the smooth, fluid direction, with detailed dramaturgy by Merridy Eastman.
Like the real life celebrity pair, McCann and Ubrihien have an effortless chemistry together. With a ballpark resemblance to the sitcom queen, McCann exudes Ball’s natural sass, facial expression, timing, and trademark foghorn voice. She is an ideal choice to portray the star. Ubrihien too, makes a great comic foil opposite McCann.
We also discover that Ball was a savvy businesswoman, who would fanatically rehearse her routines. Highlighting that disclosure, two classic moments from the series are recreated within Everybody Loves Lucy’s narrative context.
Imaginative staging seamlessly communicated other key facts about the groundbreaking TV show.
Setting up the Chapel off Chapel auditorium like an actual television studio, we learned that I Love Lucy the first program to be shot in front of a live studio audience. The sitcom also used a three camera filming process. For added effect, Everybody Loves Lucy incorporated applause and standby signs suspended from the rear curtain backdrop.
The show’s rich songbook included such classic jukebox hits as Be a Clown, You’re So Right For Me, Make Someone Happy, We’re Having a Baby, You Don’t Have To Know The Language, Give It All You Got, and Lose That Long Face.
For fans of I Love Lucy and particularly those who enjoy learning some fun tidbits about the birth of American TV comedy, Everybody Loves Lucy is a great evening’s entertainment.