The conceivers of this shapeless, shameless play for nostalgia points have a lot of ’splainin’ to do. The idea is that we’re transported back to the 1950s to attend a live taping of two episodes of the iconic CBS sitcom, padded out with business such as authentic jingles for products like Brylcreem and Mr. Clean, a medley of “hits of the day” and plenty of banter from the studio warm-up guy (Ed Kross). All the fake-backstage stuff, including befuddling extended bits with actors planted in the audience, threatens to overwhelm the main attraction, re-creations of season-one episode “The Benefit” and season three’s “Lucy Gets Her Eyes Examined.”
Which isn’t to say the re-enactments are all that exciting. Sirena Irwin and Bill Mendieta continue their roles from the Los Angeles incarnation of the stage show; Mendieta’s naturalistic mastery of Ricky’s voice is impressive, but Irwin’s rendition of Lucy feels like the work of a technician, glassy-eyed and forced.
And despite the you-are-there premise, don’t expect to learn anything about the actual people behind I Love Lucy. Irwin and Mendieta are credited as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, with Curtis Pettyjohn and Joanna Daniels as Fred and Ethel Mertz. Pointedly, you’ll never hear the names Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley or Vivian Vance mentioned, though the episode stagings will make you better appreciate the original actors’ comic timing. The whole empty exercise feels rather like a theme-park attraction. You might not be able to shake the feeling you’ve paid top-tier ticket prices for something that should be free with your admission to Great America.