There’s something to be said about being able to put on a show that seems fresh and unexpected even after one has been in show business for nearly 50 years. Indeed, Lucie Arnaz’s cabaret performance at the Kennedy Center had the mark of someone who clearly has honed her craft throughout the years and finds the stage to be a comfortable home, but is not content to rest on her laurels.
We learned of Lucie’s noteworthy career and her famous family – she’s of course the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz – even before she hit the intimate Terrace Theater stage. Although an introductory video montage featuring the illustrious performer in a variety of her television, film, stage, and talk show appearances came off as slightly indulgent, her jazzy opening number, Harry Warren’s “Lulu’s Back in Town” (popularized by Mel Tormé, but first sung in the 1935 musical Broadway Gondolier), proved that she wasn’t here to simply reminisce. Her sultry and full vocals, combined with a strong stage presence started the ‘live’ section of the performance on a high note.
From there, Ms. Arnaz sang an eclectic set of songs from numerous genres and regaled us with more tales of her storied career, growing up with her famous parents, and her search for love and a family life outside of show business. Although the patter got to be a bit excessive, it did create an inviting atmosphere in which Ms. Arnaz welcomed us into her world – all of it.
From the cheeky, self-penned “Lucie with an i-e,” to “Cubanchero,” which celebrated her father and Latin heritage, she had to so much fun on stage that it was impossible not to become wrapped up her in her bountiful energy.
Energy was not the only thing she brought to the stage. Several unique arrangements allowed Lucie to show off her jazz, blues, and country chops. Covering the classics “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Lullaby of Birdland,” with accompaniment from her accomplished music director Ron Abel, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Julie Jacobs on drums, her smoky voice filled the theatre.
Yet, it was also the musical theatre songs that further suggested why Arnaz has had such a strong career that includes several stints on Broadway, including most recently, David Yazbek’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Her emotional filled rendition of Craig Carnelia’s “Just a Housewife” (from Working) was a great choice to explore the sacrifices she made to balance her career and family life and was sung exceedingly well.
However, it was the songs that perhaps she is best known for on the Great White Way – “They’re Playing Our Song” and I Still Believe in Love” from Marvin Hamlisch’s They’re Playing Our Song – that alone were well-worth the price of admission. A more subdued and mature arrangement of the latter song, something the unparalleled Hamlisch created especially for Ms. Arnaz for use in concerts, was the definite highlight. In this case, a video montage of her family which played during the song was highly effective because it, together with the song, came off more as a tribute than an exercise in self-indulgence or pandering to the audience.
As a younger musical theatre aficionado who wasn’t yet born when They’re Playing Our Song premiered on Broadway, it was exciting for me to have a chance to witness her remarkable talent and hear those songs in particular.
Ms. Arnaz mentioned on several occasions her long history of performing at the Kennedy Center and I, for one, hope this is certainly not the last time we get to revel in her unique talent.
This was a one-night-only performance at the Kennedy Center on November 8, 2013.