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A colorful salute to 'I Love Lucy'

'I Love Lucy Live on Stage,' which opens Saturday at the Greenway Court Theatre, re-creates the 'filming' of two episodes of the classic 1950s series.

September 28, 2011|By Karen Wada, Special to the Los Angeles Times

A new musical-comedy tribute to an old favorite — TV's "I Love Lucy" — aims to be more than just another rerun.

For starters, says director Rick Sparks, "I Love Lucy Live on Stage" offers the rare chance to see "those beloved black-and-white characters in living color."

The show, which premieres Saturday at the Greenway Court Theatre, also takes audiences out of their living rooms and into the studio to watch the "filming" of two episodes from the classic '50s sitcom, which starred Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley. The play is based on original scripts of the show.

"We wanted to honor this great legacy and yet do more than simply put 'Lucy' onstage," says Sparks, "and so, we've used a bit of artistic license" — occasionally tweaking the on-camera action and creating an in-studio world that includes period commercials, a trivia contest and "other things that make you feel you're part of the show."

The main attraction, however, remains the antics of irrepressible New York housewife Lucy Ricardo, her Cuban bandleader husband, Ricky, and their neighbors, Fred and Ethel Mertz. In the first episode, Lucy tries to get in on the act when Ricky agrees to appear in Ethel's women's club benefit. In the second, vision-blurring eyedrops jeopardize her attempt to jitterbug her way into show business.

"We looked for stories with lots of musical possibilities," says Sparks, who co-wrote the stage adaptation and new material with Kim Flagg.

"I Love Lucy Live on Stage," which runs through Dec. 30, grew out of an idea from executive producers David George and Stephen Kahn, who created a touring exhibition of set replicas and memorabilia for the series' 50th anniversary in 2001. They want to mount a road version of the stage show as well.

Sparks says the popularity of "I Love Lucy," which is marking its 60th anniversary this year, is "great, but double-edged, because we know some fans are fastidious about details and have high expectations."

Another challenge is fitting "everything and everybody" on a small stage. The cast includes Sirena Irwin (Lucy), Bill Mendieta (Ricky), Bill Chott (Fred) and Lisa Joffrey (Ethel), plus a supporting ensemble and band.

"We also have an interesting balancing act," Sparks says, "because the producers licensed the rights from CBS to present stage versions of the TV episodes, but do not have the rights to use anything autobiographical about the original performers. In any case, we aren't interested in doing impersonations. There's only one original cast.

"We hope audiences see how much we love these characters," says Sparks. "This is a valentine to the show and the television industry of that time."

calendar@latimes.com

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