Theater Review: An Evening With Lucille Ball: Thank You For Asking

The pacing begins a little slowly, with Lucy arriving at her dressing room and getting ready for the show, but it sets up the fact that Lucille Ball wanted to be seen as something other than the I Love Lucy character.  She felt that there was so much more to her than that -- she didn’t want to be hampered by having to do reenactments of the old favorite sketches.


The show gets into full swing when Lucy begins her question and answer session with the audience. Mind you, this is a simulated Q&A, with Lucy pretending to call on people in the audience and using pre-recorded questions.  This may sound clumsy, but it works quite well to introduce the various topics she wants to cover.  In real life, Lucy was known for conducting these sessions in order to inform and educate people and share other facets of herself. LaRusch wrote the show in conjunction with Lucie Arnaz (Lucy’s real daughter). The vignettes are told in such loving detail, one can well imagine that these were stories told to little Lucie told at her mother’s knee. Arnaz also directed the show, giving it an authenticity that feels very true to the real Lucille Ball.


[image-1]The stories are varied and entertaining. Lucy talks about her early days as a Chesterfield Girl when she was a starving model in New York, recounting that when she was taken out to dinner by admirers, she would make a sandwich under the table to have for lunch the next day. She tells the story of how her CBS radio show, My Favorite Husband was so popular the network proposed that she star in a television series.  The trouble was that her marriage to Desi was on the rocks, and she at first declined but later suggested that Desi be her on-screen husband.  Of course the “suits” at the network thought that the television audience wouldn’t be able to relate to an all-American redhead being married to a Cuban.  They were certainly wrong on that one.


Lucy also tells fun behind-the-scenes stories about of some of her[image-2] iconic episodes like "Vitametavegamin," gives the low-down on the wine vat episode (“Stomping on the grape was like stepping into a vat of slimy eyeballs.”), and uses the story of the chocolates on the conveyor belt to talk about the genius of Vivian Vance.


A bittersweet note was that the opening night of Wildcat, her successful Broadway play, was the same day she signed the papers to divorce Desi. Ironically, Desi sent her his traditional red and white carnations as a congratulatory gesture that same night.


The show closes with a nod to Desi for his talent as an innovative businessman and artist. In this we can see Lucie Arnaz's desire to pay homage to her dad. Old video and home movie clips occasionally play on a screen, adding a nice touch.


Whether you saw them when they were new or years later when they were in syndication, I Love Lucy is a show that touched many of us in special ways. If you have fond memories of Lucy, Suzanne LaRusch’s brilliant rendition of our favorite flame-haired comedienne is a show not to be missed.


An Evening with Lucille Ball: Thanks for Asking, Jan. 5-17, 7:30 p.m., Tues. Weds. and Fri.; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thurs. and Sat.; and 4 p.m., Sun., Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, 36.50, tbpac.org.


To read more of Sally Bosco’s writing and theater reviews see TampaBayArts.net.


Lucille Ball, that icon of comedy, didn’t think she was funny.  “I don’t think funny,” she says.  “If you write something down on a piece of paper I can do it. Otherwise forget it.”

As Suzanne LaRusch utters these words in An Evening with Lucille Ball: Thank You for Asking (now playing at the Straz Center), she is so spot-on as Lucy it’s uncanny.  In appearance, voice and mannerisms LaRusch (pictured) seems to be channeling our beloved redhead. So much so, I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t actually her.

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