Do you love Lucy? Fans of Lucille Ball and her iconic 1950s sitcom have definitely “got some ’splaining to do” if they don’t get over to the Royal Alex for the Canadian premiere of I Love Lucy — Live on Stage.
Nostalgia is a hot ticket in big-budget theatre, and turning a well-known property like I Love Lucy into, say, a Broadway musical seems like a no-brainer. But I Love Lucy — Live on Stage is a different kind of beast: it recreates the experience of being in an actual studio audience at the Desilu Playhouse soundstage for the taping of two favourite episodes of the beloved sitcom. In between scenes, the Crystaltone Singers perform live commercial jingles, and the whole affair is presided over by charming Desilou Playhouse host Maury Jasper, played by Mark Christopher Tracy.
“I've always had a tremendous respect for Lucy, vis-à-vis her effect on the emerging television market in the early 1950s,” Tracy says. “I think the numbers are something like a doubling of TV-set ownership in the first few years of her show."
But Tracy isn’t the only admirer of brassy, glamorous and larger-than-life Ms Ball, who definitely has a devoted gay following. “Most of the men who come to the show dressed as Lucy are probably gay,” he jokes. “Of course the gays love Lucy. She’s funny! But she’s also wily. Who doesn't want to be friends with the smartest person in the room?”
For Tracy, Ball is a different kind of gay icon, especially considering the age she came from. “Often it seems like gay icons are ‘sufferers’ like Judy Garland,” he says. “But Lucy was also a proto-feminist in that, unlike most other women/wives on TV at the time, she wasn’t about to be held down! She had a dream that would never be crushed or suppressed, no matter how many ‘no’s Ricky decreed!”
For a show like I Love Lucy — Live on Stage, specificity in terms of time period is paramount, and while slipping into the right era could be tricky, Tracy has a natural advantage. “Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you I have a certain comfort level in dealing with things past,” he explains. “I own a mid-’50s car, I live in a 1960 bachelor pad, I get easily lost on ‘vintage LA’ websites . . .” And did his personal nostalgia extend to an appreciation for I Love Lucy? “I just didn't watch her,” he admits, although he doesn’t consider it to be a negative. “The best part of my relative lack of knowledge about I Love Lucy is I can sit down with a few episodes and truly be enjoying them for the first time!”