I LOVE LUCY: An Interview with Sarah Elizabeth Combs

Event: I Love Lucy Live On Stage

Venue: Times-Union Center Moran Theatre

Date: March 17-22

Contact: (904)442-2929 or www.artistseriesjax.org

Tickets: $32.50-82.50

From Dorothy’s ruby slippers in Wizard of Oz to Cinderella’s glass slippers in Into The WoodsSarah Elizabeth Combs is comfortable filling the shoes of strong female characters. But when she booked the audition for I Love Lucy, Combs was hesitant to take the leap from leading lady to funny girl. “When I was cast in the show, I almost didn’t go to the audition. Up until now I had only really done ingénue roles. I just didn’t see it,” she says. “But as I was preparing, I started to realize that this is really fun. I get these characters. They are very relatable. I think there is a little Lucy in all of us.”

I Love Lucy Live On Stage is presented by the FSCJ Artist Series March 17-22 at the Times-Union Center Moran Theater. The brand-new hit stage show adapted from one of the most beloved programs in television history. America’s fab four – Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel – will bring audiences back in time to 1952 as a member of the studio audience awaiting the filming of two hilarious episodes in the Desilu Playhouse soundstage.

I Love Lucy recreates two episodes of the original television show set in the Tropicana and Lucy and Ricky’s New York apartment. The first episode is called “The Benefit” during which Lucy tries to convince Ricky to sing to her at Ethel’s benefit. The second involves Lucy’s hilarious jitterbug routine following an eye exam. Diehard fans will recognize the episodes, she says, “but of course everyone wants the Vetavitavegimin or the grape stomping. It’s timeless but in a way it’s almost too iconic to recreate.”

LUCY 08In between scenes, the Crystaltones entertain the audience with live commercial jingles from Palmolive to Mr. Clean. Combs plays play Gertie, one of the Crystaltones singers. She also plays Ricky’s quirky secretary, Fern, and the role of Dinah Beach, based on Dinah Shore. “I have a great time in this show because I run the gamut of different roles. The show really makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time to 1952 and you’re watching a live filming,” she says. “It’s quite a variety of roles with a lot of costume and wig changes. I basically run off stage, change and run back on. We’ve got it down to a system. It’s a well-oiled machine but it keeps you on your toes.” Combs says she was “definitely was a fan,” watching The Lucy Show as a kid. After signing on, she ingested a steady diet of I Love Lucy episodes, watching some episodes upwards of 50 times but she also listened, recording the audio to learn the rhythm of the voice in her head.

Growing up in Southern California, Combs began formal vocal training at 9 after an early introduction to the old Hollywood musicals. As a child, she would often recreate all of the female leads for her family audience. She was awarded a scholarship at 17 to attend the Idyllwild Arts Academy where she studied musical theatre and classical voice. Upon completion, Combs was accepted to the prestigious Eastman School of Music in New York as a Vocal Performance Major, paving the way for a lifetime career in musical theatre. Among Combs’ most treasured roles are Laurey in Oklahoma, Maria in The Sound of Music, Cosette in Les Miserables, Miss Dorothy in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Johanna in Sweeney Todd, which earned her an Ovation Nomination.

Prior to signing on with I Love Lucy, Combs starred in the Las Vegas production of Phantom of the Opera. After two and a half years of dark, romantic material, Combs needed a little light in her life beyond the cutting up backstage. Joining the comedy production has allowed Combs to explore her quirky side and embrace the talent and legacy of Lucille Ball. “It’s been very inspiring and very helpful. She established this and if you follow her formula, the comedy kind of takes care of itself. I have such a great respect for her. My favorite quote of Lucille Ball’s is ‘I’m not funny. What I am is brave’. She was just game for anything. She was always willing to go out there and try.” Combs’ attributes Lucy’s staying power with the ability to create comedy out of familiar, everyday situations. The humor was wholesome and clean. It didn’t default to shock value for attention or adult language for a laugh. The laughter was in the delivery, a simple punchline, a hilarious expression or just a subtle eye roll. I Love Lucy is a snapshot of a past era that still resonates today.

“I think it’s because they are so honest. It comes from a place of love. Ricky is always getting mad at Lucy for something but in the end, he still loves her. And Lucy just makes you fall in love with her because she is so real. We are on her side and we want to watch her. We see how hard she tries. The show did such a good job of hooking you right away with the honesty and some great comedic timing and physical comedy. It’s fun because she takes you on a journey. I love that little kids come and I can hear them laughing because it’s funny and it still holds up. We like to call our show a valentine to I Love Lucy. It warms people’s hearts.” Be sure to check out the show at the Moran Theatre March 17-22, and go to www.artistseriesjax.org for more information.

About Liza Mitchell