I Love Lucy was the iconic fifties American sitcom starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It took the world by storm and was adored in homes across the world, making a star of its leading lady.
As a young boy of 10, Lee Tannen sat and watched rerun after rerun, knowing every line, every scene and his adoration grew for Lucy. With the seemingly unreachable life of a TV star, Tannen gets his chance at meeting his idol after she marries a relative of his. They always say never meet your idols, but years later Tannen seeks Ball out in Beverly Hills and he experiences a lifetime love affair as a Jewish gay man with his red-headed queen.
After phenomenal success earlier this year, I Loved Lucy has returned to the Jermyn Street Theatre where Lee Tannen’s memoirs of his touching friendship with Lucille Ball have been brought to life on stage with Sandra Dickinson playing the role as Lucy. Director Anthony Biggs continues to keep the production sharp and uncomplicated, allowing you to fully embrace the drama on stage.
It’s an endearing and honest tale that offers an insight into the world of an acclaimed star. Behind closed doors we see a woman still full of sharp wit and terrific humour but spends her days playing backgammon and nostalgically recalling her years when she was a success. Her fear of becoming unloved by her fans creeps in and we see a complicated character, with her many layers and underlying insecurity.
Tannen becomes her confidant and rock, and it’s a companionship that lasts her later years. But sadly it’s always those closest who feel the brunt of anxieties and get hurt the most. When Ball throws him out over a disagreement, the scale of her anger feels disproportionate leaving Tannen feeling a little in the dark as to what happened.
Stefan Menaul is a joy to watch as Lee, he brings a great energy to the role and a charming quality that’s easy to warm to him. The real showstopper however is Sandra Dickinson, she’s a real tour de force and fully embodies Lucy with acute attention to deal and electric stage presence, particularly in the intimate setting at the Jermyn Street Theatre.
In the final years of her life, Tannen cherishes the moments he spends with Lucy and after her death he clearly mourns the affectionate friend he had. It’s a very personal and greatly touching story and even though I am not hugely familiar with Lucille Ball, I came away with a heart-warming feeling that led me to go home and watch episodes of I Love Lucy. It was clear to see with such a presence on screen why Lee Tannen really loved Lucy.
(Photo courtesy of Scott Rylander)