‘I Love Lucy Live’ re-creates excitement of being in ’50s audience


“I Love Lucy Live on Stage”

8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $41-$61. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-916-2800, www.cobbenergycentre.com.

For some two years, actor Kevin Remington has played crotchety sidekook Fred Mertz in the national tour of "I Love Lucy Live on Stage," which opens at the Cobb Energy Centre on Friday. Considering everything he's seen along the way — "I have a fan base now of cranky old men," he says modestly — not much surprises him anymore.

Unless it’s a question about whether anyone’s ever tried sneaking onstage to join the show, a la Lucy Ricardo.

“No,” Remington laughed, hard, during a phone interview last week. “No one’s tried to do that!”

Apparently, they’d have some splainin’ to do.

“I Love Lucy Live” grew out of a 50th anniversary traveling exhibition for the beloved sitcom, which originally aired from 1951 to 1957 on CBS. Why not re-create the live studio audience experience of those early episodes’ filmings, the stage show’s developers figured, complete with “cameramen,” commercial breaks and a couple of classic “Lucy” episodes performed by professional actors?

Those episodes — "The Benefit" and "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined" — were chosen because they're funny, feature musical numbers and include beloved settings like the Ricardos' apartment and the Tropicana Club, said co-adapter/producer Kim Flagg. Both also have Lucy trying to wheedle and scheme her way into showbiz — pretty much the plot of every episode.

The perfect homage or no, it’s best not to try to infiltrate the cast of “I Love Lucy Live on Stage.” Instead, here are four surefire ways to be just as, uh, fully involved from your seat:

Make a horse's you-know-what of yourself: Audience members frequently show up in costume, Flagg and Remington say. Lucy or Lucy and Ethel together are by far the most popular choices for women, and even some men. The ante was raised at a Toronto performance where 50 Lucys arrived together: Lucy as she was dressed in 50 different episodes, that is. Looking to stand out? In "The Benefit," Lucy and Ethel don the front and back of a horse costume, respectively, as part of you-know-who's latest scheme to get into showbiz. Just a suggestion …

Unleash your inner King Cat: "I Love Lucy" has rerun continuously on TV since 1957, and most episodes can also be found online. No wonder then that performing the live stage show can be "like 'Rocky Horror,'" Remington quips. "The guys who play the cameramen are (nearer the front of the stage) and say they can see people in the audience mouthing some of the lines along with us." Bonus points go to anyone who can keep straight the goofy jitterbugger Arthur "King Cat" Walsh's lines ("Frantic, baby, frantic! Let's gas it!") in "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined" (you can see it on YouTube). Producer Flagg loves people's "emotional connection" with "Lucy" — just not the idea of them loudly speaking or singing along with the cast. And no "gassing it" in the aisles, baby.

Say Halo to a little friendly competition: During the episodes' scene changes, the Crystaltone Singers perform jingles just as it was done during the live commercial breaks of television's early days. Ironically, "I Love Lucy" was the first multicamera sitcom filmed in front of an audience and one of the few shows not broadcast live back then. In between episodes, there's a "Lucy"-themed trivia contest, where two audience members compete onstage for a giant bottle of Halo shampoo (the "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific" of the 1950s), and everyone else gets to act like a know-it-all in their seats. Especially if there's a question about the first filmed multicamera sitcom.

Play "Babalu" bingo: With rare exception — a cigarette-smoking moment excised here, a famous racehorse's name updated there — both onstage episodes are carbon copies of the TV originals. But how can you have "I Love Lucy Live on Stage" without having Ricky Ricardo (actor Euriamis Losada) banging out "Babalu?" Turns out you can't. "Spoiler alert, he does play 'Babalu' here," Flagg said about the "iconic" number that wasn't in either of the original TV episodes, but ended up getting worked into the live show. Where, exactly? Spoiler alert: Ricky will be wearing a tux. And a big conga drum around his neck.