Before Mary Tyler Moore, before Julia Louis-Dreyfus, before Ellen, there was Lucille Ball. And stepping into those iconic and infamous shoes is musical theatre star Elise McCann.
Lucille Ball was a woman for the people, winning hearts with her unique brand of slapstick comedy and heartfelt humour. As the star of I Love Lucy, she reigned supreme in one of the most popular sitcoms in American history.
Lucy was wacky, fearless, and totally endearing, and she broke the mould for the way women were allowed to behave on screen. Lucy was joined every step of the way by her real-life and on-screen husband Desi Arnaz, and together they held up a funhouse mirror to every marriage in America. But beneath the seemingly ditzy veneer of a 1950s housewife was an ambitious and savvy businesswoman whose success owed little to luck.
In light of all that, Everybody Loves Lucy — coming to QPAC later this month — is best described as an exploration and investigation of an icon. Elise McCann has created a show that provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into a legendary sitcom that was loved by millions.
We headed along to the Treasury Hotel to chat to the star herself over a tantalising high tea. Everybody knows that all the best chats are had over cupcakes and champagne.
Describe the show in a single sentence.
A hilarious and moving look at Lucille Ball’s humor and legacy.
Have you been a long-time Lucille Ball fan?
I’ve always known who she was and LOVED watching her show, but it wasn’t until I was presented with the opportunity to do this show that I got to really research her and realised how intelligent and brave and intrinsic she was in creating an avenue for comedy for women! And THAT’s when I really became a huge fan!
Were you intimidated by trying to emulate and imitate such an iconic woman?
In a way — I think you’d be lying if you weren’t intimidated by the opportunity to play someone as hilarious and honest and ground breaking as Lucy. But I realised pretty quickly that it’s more empowering and exciting than intimidating. Lucy was so brave and so about giving her audience and work everything, that I figured I had to take a leaf out of her book and forget the nerves and just give it everything!
Favourite line in the show and why?
I have two!
One is: “‘How could I think our marriage was a failure? If we made the life of even one person better through our love and laughter – we were a success,” which i think is the most inspiring way of living life. She was never a victim despite the tough times, she was an optimist.
The second one is: “I Love Lucy is a family show. Surely Lucy and Ricky deserve to have a family too.” Which shows how Lucy cut through the prejudices and sexism of the time which said you couldn’t show a pregnant woman on television. Lucy believed in her own vision and was such a trail blazer, it’s pretty amazing. In terms of funny things — I can’t ever get past her making fun of Ricky’s accent. She always has awesome one liners pointing out the inherent cultural and racial differences in their marriage.
Will people who don’t know who Lucille Ball is still enjoy the show?
Absolutely! This show is hilarious and moving as its own narrative. It is about comedy and the time of the 1950s and relationships and TV! It’s very personal and very funny so everyone will find something that draws them in. If you know Lucy or I Love Lucy it will just add another whole layer of humour and pathos and fun.
Tell us about the highlights and challenges of putting on this show?
It has been pretty amazing to have to learn so much about someone who has influenced our way of television today. She redefined what television was and how audiences could see themselves in their TV counterparts. This character has absolutely made me a stronger, braver actor and human!
In terms of challenges, it was a huge challenge to figure out how to condense a lifetime of achievement and ground breaking into one 70 minute show! We wanted to show the real lucille Ball — who is very different from the character Lucy Ricardo — but also find a way to give audiences the character Lucy Ricardo and utilise all the humor and laughs they would expect hearing the name Lucille Ball, but keep true to the real woman who was much more serious and hard nosed. And feeling like you’ve done it justice when this woman’s whole approach to life was to be true and real. That was a challenge, always staying true whilst covering everything we needed to!
What do you want audiences to say as they leave?
Wow, Lucille Ball was absolutely one of a kind! A strong, fearless, pioneering and hilarous woman! I want people to have left being entertained, smiling but having learnt something they didn’t know about the real Lucille Ball.
Anything else our readers should know?
Her motto in life was: ‘It doesn’t pay to get discouraged. The more you do, the more you can do! Making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself and others.’ Lucy always aimed to be honest and authentic. She said making people happy and putting a smile on someone’s face was the best thing she could ever ask for. I think that is the most inspiring and amazing way to live a life, and something we hope to share with our audience by the end of the show.
Elisa McCann will embody the spirit of Lucille Ball in her show Everybody Loves Lucy, playing at the Cremorne Theatre QPAC from February 24-27. For more details, check out our event guide listing.