Sirena Irwin is hoping that Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. will come check out her "I Love Lucy, Live On Stage" show — the production that began in a 99-seat theater in L.A. two years ago, and has grown in popularity to the point it's now doing sell-out business on a national theater tour of 1,500-1,800 seat houses.
"The show is really a valentine to their parents, to 'I Love Lucy,' to really the beginning of the television era," Irwin says. "I really hope they're able to make it at some point. There have been many people from the show — Bob Schiller, who is the last living writer for 'I Love Lucy,' came when we were in Los Angeles and he was a spitfire. We were taking a picture with him, and he said, 'Honey, you can sit on my lap.'" She laughs. Lucille Ball's long-time valet, her former secretary and colleagues including Carole Cook "have come and been really supportive. That really helped, especially at the beginning of this journey. To feel embraced by those who had known Lucille and loved her meant a lot to me, moving forward."
Ironically, the actress who has now logged more than 400 performances as Lucy had no experience of "I Love Lucy" growing up. "I came with a complete deficit. I had an interesting childhood. Part of that was that I never had a television," she explains. "My mom is a classical musician and she was touring around Europe and playing early music keyboard — harpsichord, forte piano, etc. She and my dad had split up essentially when I was born. He was a physicist, and he had been at MIT and Cornell, and then he dropped out and decided to sort of explore the world in a VW bus and teepees and do outside-of-the-box things like that. Between the two of them, I was entertained by things vastly outside of the television realm. Then, finally, I went to college and I was focused on my work."
Eventually, Irwin made it to Los Angeles and began doing sketch comedy and voice work — including the voices of "Spongebob Squarepants" characters Mrs. Squarepants and Mama Krabs, as well as Lois Lane and Mera on "Batman: The Brave and the Bold."
"I had been doing really tons of comedy. And I really want to slap myself on the hand for not having found my way to 'I Love Lucy' sooner, because it would have been a huge blessing and a great tool for me earlier in my career, but I'm at least grateful to have come to it now," she says.
Irwin met actress Paula Stewart in a professionals' acting class. One day, "She came up to me and said, 'Sirena, have you seen much "I Love Lucy"?' I said, 'No, I haven't, and I really should watch it.' She said, 'You really should. You remind me a lot of Lucy, and she was a very good friend of mine.' In fact, she had played Lucille Ball's little sister in 'Wildcat' on Broadway. And she said, 'Do you have any "Lucy" to watch?' And I said 'No,' and she said, 'Well, come over to my house. I'm going to give you my collection of "I Love Lucy" and I want you to watch it.' It was amazing, because it was not long after that that I got the call for the audition for this show. So it sort of feels like perfect timing."
Now, says Irwin, "I feel like I'm working on a Ph.D. in comedy — I mean, Lucille Ball is obviously a tremendous talent. We think of her doing broad comedy, but there are so many nuances in it as well, that have become really clear to me. Her timing was just impeccable."
"I Love Lucy, Live On Stage" is currently in Nashville, with stops across the country and a return to California calendared through the year. Irwin has other irons in the fire, too, including a movie script she has written that's just been optioned, in which she is to star. But she feels she still has a lot to learn doing the show. She's enjoying the feedback from Lucy fans wherever she goes.
As far as learning to love "Lucy" as a grownup, she acknowledges, "Perhaps it was of benefit in some ways in that I had matured and ripened and could sort of look at it from a different perspective."