You might accuse the Artist Series of having a formula.
When closing out a season, take a 1950s’ icon (or a few) and pop them in a feel-good show that’s heavy on nostalgia with a narrator who’ll make sure no dullards are left in the dust.
In 2014, the Artist Series did that with one of the weakest shows they’ve brought to the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts in years — in Million Dollar Quartet (see Folio Weekly review: Mediocre Quartet).
In 2015, the formula proves tried and true and not totally tired. The legendary Lucy and Ricky Ricardo deliver where Elvis and company could not.
The opening of I Love Lucy Live on Stage proves uneven — a little too much exposition from the Desilu Playhouse Host (played by Mark Christopher Tracy). He offers three too many era-setting 1950s’ quips (at least), and the production would be smarter to run stars Thea Brooks and Euriamis Losada on stage sooner.
Brooks has the stage command and charm to create a lovable Lucy who’s more than enough to carry the comedy past its weaker moments.
Losada has the charisma and voice to wow. Both hit the familiar catchphrases — “you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do” — for those old enough to remember the groundbreaking show or curious enough to catch episodes on TV Land. Neither goes into caricature in roles that risk just that.
Kevin Remington and Lori Hammel have their moments as Fred and Ethel Mertz with comic chemistry to match Brooks and Losada. The commercial breaks, beginning with one for Brylcreem, mostly hit their marks.
The crowd at the T-U Center was decidedly more, well, experienced than for The Book of Mormon or even Annie, and they went home happy.
Some of those who laughed up Lucy might have walked out of last month’s F-bombing-dropping The Book of Mormon. That’s fine. The theater crowd in Jacksonville is diverse enough and risk-taking enough to appreciate those envelope-pushing shows as well as a classic built with the right stars at the lead.