December 31, 2011

Lucie Arnaz Goes Back to Her Roots

The popular actress discusses performing her Latin Roots show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York City.

Much of America grew up with Lucie Arnaz, having watched her blossom as an actress opposite her mother Lucille Ball on The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. But Arnaz has since triumphed in a variety of mediums, most notably in the Broadway musical They're Playing Our Song and in the film The Jazz Singer, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.

In recent years, she has become a popular nightclub performer, and on January 5, she brings her new show Latin Roots, based on the CD of the same name, to Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York City for a four-night run. TheaterMania recently spoke to Arnaz about the show and her career.

THEATERMANIA: Are you looking forward to this gig?
LUCIE ARNAZ: I am very excited, since I haven't played there since 1999, before I left to go to London to do The Witches of Eastwick. Sometimes, I think it's difficult for me to play these ritzier rooms, because the people who come see me look for more affordable spots like Birdland. So I am really happy they agreed to discount the cover charge for this run.

TM: So how did this show -- and your CD -- come about? ?
LUCIE: After my dad [Desi Arnaz] died in 1986, I found this little cassette holder in his sock drawer and in small type on the cover, it said "Desi Arnaz and Orchestra recordings, December 9, 1947 - San Francisco." I thought wow, I had never heard these. So I got in my in car and put it on and just lost myself in this music. Of course, I had heard him sing on I Love Lucy and I had heard a few recordings, but there were no CDs available of this kind of big band stuff. And listening to this cassette sort of changed the direction of where I was going in my career. I knew I wanted to do these songs and these arrangements in front of a band. My father had some really good charts, especially some for girl singers. It just took a lot of time for everything to come together.

TM: I first heard these arrangements when you did the Babalu show at the 92nd Street Y in January 2010, which was an amazing experience. Tell me how that happened?
LUCIE: I happened to be at the Y to do an Ira Gershwin show, and Deborah Grace Winer, who is the artistic director of Lyrics & Lyrcists, told me she loved my father's arrangements and suggested we put together a show about Latin music. And then I realized I had to do everything -- produce, direct, host, and write it. So the first thing I did was call my brother, Desi Arnaz, Jr. He doesn't love to travel, but he loves to play drums and he loves the music, so he jumped at the chance to recreate it.

TM: But the show wasn't just a family affair - you had Raul Esparza singing a lot of your dad's songs, and also the great Valarie Pettiford. Why them?
LUCIE: Raul was at top of my wish list; he's so multi-talented, and like my dad, he's Cuban. But it took me three days to write him an email, since I didn't want to sound too goofy, and then I didn't hear right away, and I figured he wasn't interested. But then he called me and said he would be thrilled to do it. And I thought to have Valarie shake her booty and add her own Afro-Cuban jazz touch was perfect. It was heaven. We did the show again in Miami in July, 2010 -- let's say it was hot on many levels -- and then another concert in October, 2011 in honor of the 100th anniversary of my mother's birth, but that may be it. I would love to see it on Broadway, but we're not going there without Raul; there aren't that many people who can do these songs justice, and Desi won't come to New York for an extended run, so it just wouldn't be the same.

TM: So the Latin Roots show grew out of Babalu?
LUCIE: Yes, I am doing some of Dad's stuff myself. And while we don't have a big band like we did for Babalu, we have my musical director Ron Abel, and we also have some great percussionists so we can do as much of the CD as possible in that room.

TM: Your children are very talented. Did you think of recruiting them for this show?
LUCIE: My son Simon is a drummer and he does play percussion on the road, and Joe is an amazing guitarist with his own CDs, but their music is different from this music. And my daughter Kate is a wonderful singer and she loves this stuff, but she just started working on the production side of Rosie O'Donnell's show and I don't want to distract her.

TM: So, is there any chance we'll get you back on Broadway in something other than Babalu?
LUCIE: I always keep my ears open to what's going on in theater; I am on the board of the American Theater Wing. But doing this is great fun, and I feel like I can choose to have a career and have a life, and be at home at night with my husband [actor Laurence Luckinbill] and not do eight shows a week. But we'll see.

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