Fans of Lucille Ball will no doubt have already bought their tickets to see I Loved Lucy, a revealing play that tells the story of her relationship with Lee Tannen in the last 10 years of her life.
Ball was for many years one of the most recognised and best loved entertainers in the world, featuring in over 80 films and hundreds of TV shows. Between 1951 and 1957 she starred in 180 episodes of I Love Lucy – a forerunner of today’s reality shows. By anyone’s measure she was the queen of comedy.
After two successful runs last year at the compact Jermyn Street Theatre, I Loved Lucy comes to the West End’s Arts Theatre, a 350 seat proscenium arch theatre for a strictly limited run until 2nd September. The new production extends the original with more content and what looks like a bigger budget.
Sandra Dickinson is again Lucy and Matthew Scott is making his West End debut as Tannen having recently been cast in the Broadway version of An American in Paris.
Tannen first met Ball as a child and formed a close relationship at a time her star was waning and when much of her time was spent away from the public gaze. In 2011 he adapted his bestselling memoir for the stage. We get a closer look at the real Lucille, what she was really like, how she felt and chose to live. It is a unique look at a unique, complicated, needy and often sad woman.
The set is quite bare with a table and chairs that are the focus for their backgammon games. There is a large Hollywood style Lucy sign to the rear and the stage is framed with historic photos of Ball, some including Tannen. Lighting is simple yet effective and both actors project well filling the auditorium with clear dialogue.
Those wanting the show to be exclusively about Ball may come away slightly disappointed as it is a series of anecdotes from Tannen’s viewpoint and his character has an equal share of this two hander.
The West End Theatreland is a competitive area for ticket sales and filling the venue may be a challenge particularly as it is likely those under 30 may not be aware of the importance of Lucille Ball who died in 1989.
However this is a show that deserves full houses as it features two quite amazing actors. Sandra Dickinson is majestic and totally believable as Ball. Her timing and presence are first class. Matthew Scott demands attention and brings Tannen to life. Both were word perfect and fully deserved the standing ovation given.
Overall this was an enjoyable theatre visit. The play is funny yet also tugs at the heart strings but mainly it is a fitting tribute to the Lucy ‘The Queen of Comedy’.
Following an acclaimed UK premiere at Jermyn Street Theatre in 2016, where it had a second run due to overwhelming public demand, I Loved Lucy is to transfer to London’s Arts Theatre for a strictly limited 7-week season from Wednesday 19 July to Saturday 2 September.
I Loved Lucy is a personal portrait of an iconic comedic entertainer whose public face is all too well known. But what was Lucille Ball really like? And how did she choose to live at the end of her life? Out of the spotlight.
Based on his best selling memoir, Lee Tannen’s funny, bitter-sweet play reveals the real-life Lucy and what is was like being her friend to the end. Most people who have written about Lucy never even met her. They have relied on others to fill in the blanks. Lee relied solely on Lucy. And he paints a rich personal portrait that can only add to our love of a Hollywood legend. Lee Tannen first met Lucille Ball as a child but cemented their close and enduring friendship as an adult. During the last 10 years of Lucy’s life – years mostly spent out of the spotlight, and much of it around a backgammon table – Lee became Lucy’s confidante, spending time in her Beverly Hills and Palm Springs homes, travelling with her and entertaining her on his turf in New York City.
Sandra Dickinson returns to her acclaimed role as Lucille Ball. Born in Washington DC, Sandra Dickinson found fame in the UK in the 1970s as the star of Birds Eye beefburger TV adverts. They established her in a succession of American ‘dumb blonde’ roles, and it was many years before she was able to shake that image.
She has since enjoyed a prolific career on stage and screen. Her West End shows include Singin’ In The Rain, A Streetcar Named Desire, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Not About Nightingales (NT and Broadway) and Orpheus Descending (Donmar Warehouse). Her films include Steven Spielberg’s 2018 release Ready Player One, Malice In Wonderland, Supergirl and Superman III. Among many TV roles she is probably best known as Trillian in the cult sci-fi TV series The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. She can be heard voicing various roles in Gumball, Counterfeit Cat and she is the voice of Grandma Tracy in ITV’s Thunderbirds Are Go.
Matthew Scott is making his London acting debut as Lee.He recently starred as Adam Hochberg in An American in Paris on Broadway. His other Broadway credits include Sondheim On Sondheim, A Catered Affair and the original company of Jersey Boys. His other theatre credits include: The Light In The Piazza (Philadelphia Theatre Company), for which he won the Barrymore Award; Saturday Night (The York Theater Co); Beaches, Company, ACE and Side By Side By Sondheim (all at the Signature Theatre); Chaplin (La Jolla Playhouse); First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb (The Kennedy Center); A Wonderful Life (Goodspeed Opera House); Eden and Unknown Soldier (The O’Neill Theatre Center); Ragtime, My Fair Lady and Carousel (all at Paper Mill Playhouse); West Side Story (The Muny); Legally Blonde, Swing!, Les Miserables and Sunset Boulevard opposite Liz Callaway (all for the Pittsburgh CLO).
Lee Tannen – Playwright. Lee’s memoir became an instant best seller. In 2010, he adapted it for the stage where it premiered at The Laguna Playhouse. Lee’s other work includes a new libretto in 2007 for the stage adaptation of the classic children’s story Dr. Dolittle, starring and directed by nine-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune. A year earlier, Lee was a contributing writer for the Drama-Desk-nominated musical The Audience. In 2003, Lee was writer and Associate Director for Paparazzi, an original musical for Holland America Line directed by Tommy Tune. In 2001, Lee wrote and directed All The World’s a Stage, a star-studded benefit for Variety Club at Carnegie Hall starring, among others, Barbara Cook, Nathan Lane and Tommy Tune and hosted by Jane Powell. Lee has also written special material for Joan Rivers, Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley MacLaine.
Anthony Biggs – Director. Anthony is Artistic Director of the award-winning Jermyn Street Theatre. His recent productions include Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden, Eugene O’Neill’s The First Man and Charles Morgan’s The River Line. He was Associate Director to Trevor Nunn on Jermyn Street Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall starring Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon, which transferred to the West End and New York. Biggs’s final production at JST will be Maxim Gorky’s The Last Ones which opens on 7 June. He joins the new The Playground Theatre in West London as Co-Artistic Director in September.
Set and Costume Designer Gregor Donnelly Lighting Designer Tim Mascall Sound Designer Gareth McLeod Casting Director Jane Deitch Produced by Gary DiMauro General Management: Hartshorn – Hook Productions