Banquet Room, Sat Jun 21.
Much of comedienne Lucille Ball’s best humour involved her misreading a situation and ploughing on through as if nothing’s wrong. This is deliciously represented in the opening scenes when husband Desi Arnaz (played by musical director Nigel Ubrihien) introduces her as a beautiful and glamorous woman (which apparently she was), expecting her to enter the stage in a gorgeous outfit. Instead she arrives dressed as a crazed clown ready for a knockabout routine. When Desi tries to berate her for getting it wrong she ignores him and breaks into a lively version of the song Be A Clown.
Funny, but it is also obvious from this moment that McCann is a better singer than Lucy ever was. And as a singer McCann has opted to present a musical tribute to Lucy, her life and her achievements, rather than attempt a direct imitation of Lucy in full flight.
That said, McCann looks uncannily like Lucy at times and easily captures her vivacious personality. Some classic routines are cameos and are entertaining. There are also some surprising reminders of the early days of television when advertisements were read or acted out by the cast of programs that went live to air. We get to cringe a little when we see pregnant Lucy advertising cigarettes, or hilariously becoming increasingly intoxicated whilst recommending a product she seems to be unaware has an alcoholic content.
As the show progresses we see less of Desi, which is a shame because the onstage fractious banter between the couple was a key dynamic in Lucy’s humour. No doubt this is designed to represent Desi’s growing absence from the marriage, but it perhaps overlooks the fact that Lucy was very much an ensemble player, relying on the others around her for comic foil.
This is a well-crafted show, full of bright songs performed by McCann and a classy trio led by Ubrihien, but ultimately is neither as funny as it could have been as a straight comedic rendition of Lucy’s funniest moments, nor as dramatic as it could have been with a more in depth study of the battles she faced both personally and professionally.
Tonight’s performance barely nudges an hour in length, and it would be fair to say that many of the audience who have dressed up for the evening and come a long way are left expecting more.
by Adrian Miller