This week sees the opening of I Loved Lucy at the Arts Theatre West End. The play by Lee Tannen is based on his friendship with the legendary American comedienne Lucille Ball. Dave Cross spoke to broadway star Matthew Scott who plays Lee in the show, about playing the man who wrote the play and about his co-star Sandra Dickinson who plays Lucille Ball.
Hi Matthew, how would you describe I Loved Lucy?
It is a very sweet, funny first hand account of a young gay man’s unlikely friendship with the greatest comedienne to ever live. It spans nearly thirty years and most importantly it covers the last decade of the great icon’s life. In that time Lucy shared all with her pal, nothing was off limits. Their relationship wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it was one of great importance to the ageing star. It was built on trust, laughter, and a mutual admiration and respect.
How aware of Lucille Ball were you before doing the play?
Oh, very. In the States, we had something called Nick At Nite while I was growing up. It was a television station that played The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore, and of course, I Love Lucy which I liked best. When I went off to college to study acting I revisited the show and looked at it through my hyper-critical collegiate brain. Analysing everything, her timing, her truthfulness, she was the best. There is no question of that.
You are playing Lee, who also wrote the play and obviously knew Lucy, has that made it more of a challenge?
I wish I could tell you that it has, because I am aware that would be a more interesting response. The fact is, I understand this character. Lee and I are very different and yet cut from the same cloth. Real life Lee, the writer, has been totally supportive of my interpretation.
How involved has Lee been in the process?
Lee has written several drafts of the script. We talked quite a bit before rehearsals, and even met to go through the piece together before arriving in London. Once we got here, we spent the first week sorting out what we thought might be trouble spots, reworking scenes, re-ordering, and cutting. Lee then felt it best to return to the States while Sandra (Lucy), Anthony (our brilliant director) and I worked our way through rehearsals. I’ve done a lot of new shows where writers can be very precious about their work, but not Lee. He trusted the three of us so much that he was able to leave us to our work. That is really saying something.
Has he told you any extra stories about Lucille that are not in the play?
Yes… Oh, do you want me to elaborate? Lee knew Lucy very intimately, and anything she told him is between them. He shared a lot with me because he felt it was crucial for me to know the ‘ins and outs’ of their relationship. But, anything extra will have to come from the writer himself. You could buy his book. The play is just a taste of their very complicated friendship, the book goes into even further detail.
What is Sandra Dickinson like as Lucy in the play?
Well, first off, Sandra as a person is perfection. Sweet, funny, sincere, caring, attentive and a great scene partner. As Lucy, she’s a tour de force. And you have to see her to believe it.
We hear you are singing a few songs in the play, can you tell us about these?
I suppose this is of interest because I’ve spent much of my career doing musicals on Broadway. While I do sing in the show, I must remind you that I sing as Lee… the character Lee. Without giving too much away, I serenade Lucy with a little number from Mame, a musical film she made based on the stage version by Jerry Herman. It’s a very sweet moment and Sandra and I love playing it.