After hitting the screens in 1951, everyone really did love Lucy. Lucille Ball became a television celebrity when she played Lucy Ricardo in ‘I Love Lucy’. Her wacky antics and misadventures as an all-American housewife gave women all around the world a person they could relate to.
Elise McCann, who has starred in productions such as ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘South Pacific’, is ecstatic to bring the story of Lucille Ball to life. “We are telling this wonderful story about the period that covers 'I Love Lucy' and travel from where it started to where it finished... It’s quite funny and it's got a lot of humor, a lot of heart and a lot of honesty as well.
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McCann, who also co-wrote ‘Everybody Loves Lucy’, wanted to tell Ball’s story in a special way. “A lot of people know that Lucille Ball is not a singer, so people asked me over the process 'why are you doing the cabaret? She isn't a particularly good singer'. It's not an impersonation of Lucille Ball; it's a celebration of her life and her achievements. Using the music to supplement the comedy sketches, we act out and play out and dance some of the comedy sketches she would of done on the show, but also use some of the music to act as her inner monologue; to help the audience experience some of the things she was feeling or that were happening.”
Much of the show’s popularity was also attributed to Lucy’s onscreen husband; played by then her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz. “It was kind of the first taste of our version of reality TV because of all the people that stopped to watch this show. They felt like they were watching this real life couple,” McCann says. In ‘Everybody Loves Lucy’, Nigel Ubrihien – who is also the musical director for the show – plays Desi Arnaz.
As Hollywood’s first ‘power couple’, they broke down a number of barriers at the time, including Lucille's controversial interracial marriage to a Cuban man who was six years her senior. “She was the first female to be the head of a production studio. She tackled amazing issues such as racism and got pregnant during the first season. So for the second season, they had her character pregnant on the show, it was the first time anything like that appeared on television. They were real groundbreakers.”
What was really endearing for McCann was how Lucille Ball helped pave the way for comedic actresses such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Amy Poehler, in her role that broke female stereotypes. “She was kooky and almost very childlike; [as] Lucy Ricardo she came up with these schemes and parried about. She was so crazy. She gave many women in the 1950s a whole other way to be and relate to, because they thought you had to be this prim and proper woman.”
Like all stories of success though, there are moments of heartbreak and for the world’s favorite married couple it was no different, as McCann notes. “On the television show, [we saw] the perfect parts of their relationship and what they always dreamed for it. Their relationship off the camera was difficult and different and as the years went on there was a lot of animosity that built up and that was one of the reasons that the show had to end. [But] they both said that the TV show kept them together for a really long time. McCann is able reflect on this experience as an actress, “whenever you’re kissing someone on stage or on TV [you have to] make up, part of you has to forgive them.”
Even for a generation who may not even know who Hollywood’s famous redhead is, McCann assures there will still be something to take away from the show. “['Everybody Loves Lucy' is] a show about relationships and a period of time; it’s a show about success; it’s a show about people who work hard; it’s a show about love, comedy and relationships. So for those people who do not know Lucille Ball, it doesn’t matter; it kind of translates to any age and any person.”
'Everybody Loves Lucy' plays the Queensland Performing Arts Centre 24-28 February.