“I’ll have what she’s having!”* Lucie Arnaz Wows at the New Birdland Theater

Forty-five years ago, Desi Arnaz suggested his daughter create an act showcasing songs and stories from musicals she’d been in which, at the time, numbered two. Tonight the multifaceted entertainer fulfills his suggestion with I Got the Job: Songs From My Musical Past. She’s charming and funny; looks terrific, sings with tensile strength and crackles with joie de vivre. Whatever the artist is doing to maintain her mojo, it’s working – in spades.

Arnaz regales us with showbiz stories starting with an 8’ x 10’ foot stage built in the garage, to appearances on her iconic mother’s television show (Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy), through Catholic girls’ school where, lacking a Shirley Jones soprano, she was relegated to second bananas – a multitude of “girls who couldn’t keep their legs together”… regional theater, national tours, Broadway, and The West End. Passion and gratitude shine though perspective.

“Poor Everybody Else” (Seesaw- Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields) offers a Gittel Mosca who’s as sympathetic as they come. We share every bit of the awkward character’s moment of unexpected optimism. For awhile Arnaz “specialized in beat-yourself-up Jewish girls.” The actor slips into a role with seamless transition. Her aptly accented “You Can’t Get a Man with A Gun” and deeply sighed “I Got Lost in His Arms,” bookend a chronicle of playing Jones Beach Theater in Annie Get Your Gun             (Irving Berlin).

1979’s They’re Playing Our Song, based on the real life relationship of Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch, was the first musical in which Arnaz originated a character. Tonight, as Sonia Walsk, she bounces, swivels, points, prances and generally cavorts her way through the title song as adorable today as she was then.

A story about the last minute, near replacement of “I Still Believe in Love” is priceless, not the least due to her extraordinarily expressive face and comic timing. Picture Hamlisch on the floor cutting and pasting versions of the song. Pop inflection and her own dramatic flair ride tandem. Arnaz soars. We’re along for the ride.

Two songs from a Witches of Eastwick musical (John Dempsey/Dana P. Rowe) that died on the vine, include “Who’s the Man?” undoubtedly performed by the devil who boasts of …a family crest/a hairy chest/and testes two feet across…Arnaz is gruff, provocative. She suggestively dips the microphone stand and grabs her crotch. It’s a hoot.

Another well told tale (write a book, Lucie!) revolves around an incident of lost focus during a long run of the Gershwin’s My One and Only. The anecdote’s moral is: never congratulate yourself in the middle of performance. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” segues from torchy to bright in an arrangement that can’t seem to make up its mind.

The revival of Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel and stepping into Dirty Rotten Scoundrels  (David Yazbek) were apparently particular fun. From the first, “Mabel’s come to Jesus moment,” “Wherever He Ain’t,” is performed with spit and vigor. Arnaz strikes the air with gestures, sending off sparks, expanding into space with kinetic frustration. From the second, Muriel’s “What Was a Woman To Do?” …when he’s…magically long of lash/tragically short of cash…conversationally conjures. We see what she saw.

Arnaz’s first gig as a director, the musical Hazel  (Ron Abel/Chuck Steffan), after a 1960s television series about a warmhearted, interfering maid, is in development out of town. Its talented star, Klea Blackhurst, is front and center tonight receiving high praise. Arnaz makes a joke about being nervous to sing Blackhurst’s song.

It’s a bit difficult to imagine this vibrant, attractive woman as grandmother Berthe in Diane Paulus’s acrobatic revival of Pippin (Stephen Schwartz) after seeing Irene Ryan in the role, but then Ryan never performed on a trapeze. Arnaz is nothing if not game. “No Time At All” is unleashed.  It’s like watching fountains dance at The Bellagio. The lady’s heart and soul spout. The club jubilantly jois in its chorus: Oh, it’s time to start livin’/Time to take a little from this world we’re given/Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall/In just no time at all…

A beautifully constructed, ably performed show raising spirits and tugging at a few heartstrings, this valentine to one woman’s show business history radiates sincerity and joy. Lucie Arnaz is terrific.

 *When Harry Met Sally – the film by Nora Ephron

Photos by Stephen Sorokoff

Lucie Arnaz- I Got the Job: Songs From My Musical Past
Ron Able- MD/Piano
Birdland Theater  
315 West 44th Street
July 17 – 21 2018

About Alix Cohen (527 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.