Christine Dolen

‘I Love Lucy Live on Stage’ brings split personality to the Arsht Center

Lori Hammel as Ethel Mertz and Thea Brooks as Lucy Ricardo rehearse a number during ‘I Love Lucy Live on Stage’ at the Arsht Center.
Lori Hammel as Ethel Mertz and Thea Brooks as Lucy Ricardo rehearse a number during ‘I Love Lucy Live on Stage’ at the Arsht Center. Justin Namon

I Love Lucy Live on Stage, the first offering in the 2014-15 Broadway in Miami series at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, is really two shows in one.

The reenactment of two actual episodes from the beloved 1950s television sitcom I Love Lucy is a delight. The new material — the patter of the warmup guy/announcer, live commercials for Halo shampoo and Chevrolet and such, a mini-hit parade and song-and-dance numbers — aims at pushing nostalgia buttons but comes off as pure filler.

It’s as if writer-adapters Kim Flagg and Rick Sparks took a pair of precious pearls (the Lucy episodes) and placed them in a setting made of tin.

So how much you may love I Love Lucy Live on Stage may depend on your tolerance for tepid “jokes,” your age and the real enjoyment that the stop-and-start I Love Lucy episodes provide.

The stage show’s conceit is that we, the 21st century Arsht theatergoers, are the studio audience for the filming of two Lucy episodes at Hollywood’s Desilu Playhouse in 1952 (that’s the West Coast Hollywood, of course). Both episodes (The Benefit and Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined) center around Lucy’s fixation on following her bandleader hubby, Ricky Ricardo, into showbiz.

Throughout I Love Lucy Live on Stage, the actors are referred to by the character names Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel. The names Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, William Frawley and Vivian Vance — the performers who created those classic TV characters — are left to theatergoers’ memories.

Sparks, who doubles as director, helps his key quartet of actors find the vocal and physical nuances that are vital to bringing the episodes to life. Under his guidance, all four find that sitcom groove, knowing when to exaggerate for comic effect and when to pull back.

Former Miami actor Euriamis Losada as Ricky and actress Thea Brooks as Lucy are the real treasures of I Love Lucy Live on Stage, with Kevin Remington and Lori Hammel as Fred and Ethel Mertz coming in a close second.

Slender, charismatic and forever frustrated by the wife he obviously adores, Losada’s Ricky is an accomplished singer-actor-musician, and his strong Cuban accent (something Losada simulates perfectly) gets played for laughs. Vocally, Brooks doesn’t sound much like Ball, but she nails Lucy Ricardo’s mock crying, and she’s fabulous at physical comedy. Remington and Hammel shine when Fred and Ethel resurrect an old vaudeville routine for a producer, their thirst for the spotlight just as enduring as Lucy’s.

Aaron Henderson’s sets, at first concealed behind “sound stage” curtains, re-create the Ricardos’ New York apartment and Ricky’s stomping grounds at the Tropicana night club. The costumes by Shon LeBlanc and Kelly Bailey are stylish, gorgeous period pieces, particularly the ones worn by Brooks.

But boy oh boy, that filler material delivered by the 10 other cast members.

Mark Christopher Tracy as Desilu Playhouse host Maury Jasper is tasked with explaining the mechanics of that “new” phenomenon, television, to a crowd restlessly wondering how many text messages they might be missing while their iPhones are turned off. He talks about a 21-inch Philco TV (so big!), conducts a Lucy trivia contest between a real audience member and a costumed ringer, stops and starts a scene several times after Lucy and Ethel disagree about a line.

The idea of tapping into the enduring affection for I Love Lucy by having actors perform episodes written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr. isn’t a bad one, particularly when the actors are as good as Losada, Brooks, Remington and Hammel, who rise to meet the challenges of the original material. But the new stuff isn’t witty, ironic or particularly enjoyable. It’s mundane, which is something I Love Lucy was not.

If you go

What: ‘I Love Lucy Live on Stage’ by Kim Flagg and Rick Sparks.

Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: $26-$89.

Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.

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