EVERYBODY LOVES LUCY
The Banquet Room. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 2. 2014
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Elise McCann in Everybody Loves Lucy
If you are old enough to have loved and laughed at I Love Lucy with Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, you would love Elise McCann’s sparkling incarnation of Hollywood’s screwball Queen of Comedy. If you are too young to have tuned in to the ten years of Lucy’s madcap antics, sharp repartee with husband Arnaz and satirical swipes at the treatment of women in the fifties and sixties, then McCann’s tribute show with Musical Director, Nigel Ubrhbien also taking on the roles of Arnaz and Hollywood television producers is must-see cabaret fun. Acclaimed Australian music theatre performer, McCann has been touring Everybody Loves Lucy, so if it arrives at a theatre near you, indulge in some hilariously funny nostalgia or grab a glimpse at what made their final show more popular than Dwight D Eisenhower’s presidential inauguration.
Imitation is a risky art. Lucille Ball was unique, and yet McCann makes her impersonation her own. The routines are down pat, the patter timed to perfection and her quick changes executed with lightning effect. I am a little apprehensive as she flies into her opening Be A Clown Routine. This is try-hard Lucy, the slightly clumsy clown, and it is soon apparent that there is purpose in her awkwardness. Here is a comedienne, who is never afraid to play the fool. But it is when she is as sharp as a tack that we see the real Lucille Ball.
The years have passed on, as has Lucille Ball, and we now see her and the highly successful I Love Lucy through different eyes. What network could now screen an advertisement for Philip Morris or show a pregnant woman smoking one of their brand? McCann also gives an hilarious impression of Lucille ball’s advertisement for health juice Vitameatavegamin. She has obviously put in the hours, studying episodes of I Love Lucy and it shows in her quick repartee, her ballet barre work and her witty play on language with Ubrihien’s Arnaz. Lucille Ball would have killed to have a voice like McCann’s, as she beats the blues with pick-me-up songs, Don’t Give In To A Frown from Harold Arlen and Ira Gerschwin’s Someone At Last” and Jule Styne’s Make Someone Happy.
Lucille Ball’s complex private life was hardly all sunshine and roses. We are privy to the rocky relationship with Arnaz leading up to their divorce, the battle with the studios, her struggles as a woman in the fierce world of Hollywood entertainment and her championing of the feminist cause through the character of her head-scarfed housewife.
Everybody Loves Lucy is more than McCann’s skilfully observed display of Lucille Ball’s comic routines. We are introduced to a woman, who could make the world laugh while the actress was crying inside. We meet a woman, who was much more than a clown, but a voice for independence. In an hour, McCann, Ubrihien and her musicians revive the early years of American TV comedy and the talent of a comedienne whose shows still have the power to make us laugh, to make us think and sometimes to make us cry.