Stage version's popularity shows fans still loving 'Lucy'
It's no surprise that executive producer Stephen Kahn would prod potential ticket buyers to act now for the Chicago premiere of "I Love Lucy Live On Stage," starting its two-month run Wednesday at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
"You'd better jump on it because there's a finite number of tickets," Kahn said during a recent telephone interview, adding that the show is selling very well.
Kahn has personally seen time and time again how devoted "I Love Lucy" fans can be.
The original sitcom -- produced by and starring husband-and-wife team Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball -- ran from 1951 to '57. "I Love Lucy" has lived on in perpetual TV syndication ever since, finding new fans from subsequent generations who enjoy the antics of daffy redhead Lucy Ricardo and her neighbor, Ethel Mertz, as they tried to conceal their comic mishaps from their husbands, Ricky and Fred.
"There's very little that's topical in 'I Love Lucy.' You don't hear about the Cold War, you don't hear about (Soviet leader) Khrushchev," said Kahn about the universal appeal of the show. "'I Love Lucy' is simply this: Ricky Ricardo is in show business and Lucy Ricardo wants to get in show business."
Kahn first saw how "I Love Lucy" fans "come out of the woodwork" when he served as executive producer for an "I Love Lucy" 50th anniversary tour under license from both CBS and the Arnaz family. The tour opened at Milwaukee's Summerfest in 2000 and consisted of three full-size "I Love Lucy" set recreations (the Ricardo's New York apartment, the Tropicana nightclub and the Beverly Palms Hotel), plus lots of sitcom memorabilia.
Kahn likes to cite how an estimated 5,000 people waited outside in cold January weather to see the tour's opening day at the Mall of America in Minnesota, or how 175,000 people cycled through the Showboat Casino in a two-week tour stop in Atlantic City, N.J.
"It got us questioning: What if we actually recreated episodes live with actors on these sets -- episodes as written -- and see if people will go for that," Kahn said.
"I Love Lucy Live On Stage" opened in a 99-seat theater in Los Angeles in 2011 and promptly sold out its entire run, he said. The folks at Broadway in Chicago approached Kahn and his associates to bring the show to Chicago.
Unlike other live theater takes on TV shows like "Xena Live" or "Real Live Brady Bunch," Kahn stresses that "I Love Lucy Live On Stage" is not a spoof. And since most "I Love Lucy" episodes only run 22 minutes sans commercials, Kahn and the show's creators decided to frame the show as if the audience was attending a two-episode filming at the Desilu Playhouse soundstage circa 1952, complete with an announcer host, sung advertising jingles and a live Latin band.
Only the two leading stars from the L.A. production, Sirena Irwin as Lucy and Bill Mendieta as Ricky, are appearing in Chicago, while the rest of the cast and band are locals. And since another show, "Potted Potter," is booked immediately after "I Love Lucy Live On Stage" at the Broadway Playhouse, Kahn says there's really no way for the show to extend.
"There was a big scalping operation going on," Kahn said about the L.A. production of "I Love Lucy Live On Stage." " ... People would be asking these ridiculous figures (for tickets), but they sold them."
Location: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: Performance schedule varies between Wednesday, Sept. 12, and Sunday, Nov. 11, but largely 2and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday (no show Thanksgiving Day) and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday