Everybody Loves Lucy review (Hayes Theatre, Sydney)

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There are some things you just can’t fit into a one-hour cabaret and Lucille Ball’s life story is one of them. So thankfully writers Richard Carroll and Elise McCann haven’t tried to shoehorn too many biographical details into Everybody Loves Lucy, their cabaret tribute to the queen of the television sitcom — besides, most of us vaguely know the Lucy story. Instead, what they offer is a glimpse into Ball’s life while she was filming the seminal sitcom I Love Lucy, the impact she had upon the western world and the role of women in the 1950s.
The action, directed with expertly drilled comedic timing by Helen Dallimore, takes place on the I Love Lucy soundstage, covering both behind-the-scenes moments and sketches inspired by and partially lifted from the series. McCann plays the lady herself with vivacity, superb vocals (which Ball never had) and a firm understanding of just how much of a pioneer Ball really was. While it’s not a direct impersonation, she’s got the broad humour of Ball down pat, and, just like Ball, she’s a true clown, diving head first into each absurd comedic situation. It will be a thrill to see what McCann makes of her recently-announced role as Miss Honey in Tim Minchin’s Matilda later this year.
To have McCann also play a housewife who drew inspiration from Ball and made her first steps into the workforce is an ingenious touch. Lucy was the everywoman who lived out the fantasy of liberation on the small screen. Despite her role as the classic 1950s housewife, Ball was a superb business woman and artist behind the scenes, and within her assigned television “role” managed to break down boundaries, often simply by getting herself into “undignified” situations. She brought millions of people laughing along with her, relaxing and softening taboos.
One particular pre-Lucy taboo was pregnancy on television. When Ball became pregnant during the second series, Ball and the other producers incorporated her pregnancy into the storyline, despite the advice of the network and various ad agencies. (Although they still couldn’t use the word “pregnant” — Lucy was “expecting”.) Carroll and McCann have brilliantly captured the hypocrisies of the network — a major objection to incorporating the pregnancy into the show was that I Love Lucy was a “family” show, watched by children.

McCann is ably supported by Nigel Ubrihien as Desi Arnaz and the musical director. The recurring theme of Make Someone Happy takes on new meaning each time it’s sung thanks to McCann’s versatile, warm, smooth-as-silk voice and Ubrihien’s astute accompaniment.
If you’re not familiar with some of the more intriguing parts of Ball’s life — including her early life and controversial registration as a communist — it’s worth reading up on. But this cabaret is more concerned with a pivotal period in American television and political history and the personalities at the centre of it. It’s lithe, entertaining and beautifully crafted.

[box]Everybody Loves Lucy is at the Hayes Theatre, Sydney until March 28[/box]

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