By By Gregg Shapiro
Talk about a living legacy. Singer and actress Lucie Arnaz is the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Go ahead, try and top that! Arnaz, who has been married to actor Laurence Luckinbill (of The Boys in the Band renown) since 1980, has been acting since she was a child, appearing alongside her mother in The Lucy Show in the early 1960s. Over the years, Arnaz has appeared in a variety of movies and TV shows, including starring in her own sitcom as well as hosting a talk show. Some of her greatest success occurred onstage, where she starred in the Broadway musical, They’re Playing Our Song and was featured in several touring companies, including most recently playing Berthe in the national tour of the Pippin revival. For someone with such a pedigree, Lucie could not be kinder or more fun to talk to. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing her about her career.
Gregg Shapiro: Lucie, on April 1, 2020 you will be performing a concert at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. I’d like to begin by asking you who you consider to be your inspirations when it comes to singing.
Lucie Arnaz: Oh, my god, the list is long [laughs]! It’s kind of eclectic. I would say people who pay attention to lyrics as much as their pretty voices. You always want to sing on pitch and have a pleasant sound. But it’s the people who sell the stories that I’m impressed with. That could be any number of people, from Willie Nelson to Rosemary Clooney.
LA: Right? It’s all over the ballpark. I guess it’s the actor in you. You want to tell a story. You want to be that person in the story. Why am I singing this? Who am I telling it to? Why do I need to say it?
GS: Being that the venue is in South Florida, will you be performing selections from your Latin Roots album?
LA: No. This show that I’m doing now is the first one I’ve done since Latin Roots that has an actual theme; things were chosen for a specific reason. It’s an idea that started 40 years ago, when my father was still alive. He suggested that I put together a show from all the musicals that I’d been in. I laughed at him because I’d only done like three [laughs]. I said, “It’s a short show, Dad!” So, I never did it. Now, it’s many years later and I’ve done a bunch of musicals. I looked back at the material that came from them, and I thought, “I’ve got a great show here!” The stories about getting into the shows and what I learned. Stories about why I even started getting up on stage in the first place. I call it, I Got the Job: Songs From My Musical Past. It’s a mini retrospective of my life in musical theater. It doesn’t encompass Latin Roots. I have a whole separate show for that.
GS: While you are in South Florida are there any Cuban restaurants or other Little Havana popular spots that you like to visit?
LA: [Laughs] Now you’re talking! My schedule is so tight this time, it frightens me. But I gave myself one extra day in Florida after we close in Aventura. I’m going to stick around and visit my Cuban relatives there. You know they’re going to take me to the most current fabulous place. That’s always what I do.
GS: Every year it seems like there are more and more revivals on Broadway. With the passing of Neil Simon and Marvin Hamlisch, don’t you think it’s time for a revival of They’re Playing Our Song?
LA: Oh, my God! It’s hilarious that it’s been 40 years and they’ve never done a revival of that show. Many people love it. It’s an odd thing to me; I don’t really understand it myself. Last February we did a one-night-only 40th original cast reunion with Robert Klein and me, our original conductor and a 22-piece orchestra. Even Debbie Gravitte, who was one of my back-up girls, came back and did that. Hugh Panaro played one of the three guys. We sold out the Music Box Theatre in New York. It was such a thrill to hear them react to that show again. I’m 40 years older! Except for the lines where he (Vernon) says, “I didn’t know Jewish girls had major problems” and she (Sonia) says, “Well, they do after you turn 30” – I had to do a very special line reading on that [laughs]. That’s the only thing that didn’t still work. It’s a story of two people trying to work together and fall in love and all of their idiosyncrasies train-wrecking. It’s a great show! I don’t know why they haven’t revived it.
GS: You mentioned that you’ve done other musicals you’ve done and a few years ago, you played Berthe in the national tour of the revival of Pippin, singing “No Time at All,” which is one of my favorite songs. What was that experience like for you?
LA: You know the revival of Pippin that it was, right? The acrobatic revival of Pippin. It was all that other stuff, too! My part was the dance trapeze number. For me, doing it at 63 years old and coming to it completely flabby and untrained. I didn’t have those muscles at all. It’s not a swinging trapeze. You go up 20 feet in the air with a trapeze partner and you hang upside down and he holds me just by my pelvis with no net, no wires, nothing. Hang over the stage! Do this gorgeous thing. I had to train to do that in the same amount of time that we were rehearsing the national tour. It wasn’t like, “Come here a month early and get into training.” No, no, no. You start rehearsal for the show and every day I had like 10 minutes that I could work with the guy and learn it. It’s not like the dance captain where he can say, “Take these steps and practice them at home.” Accomplishing that was as thrilling as singing Stephen’s (Schwartz) wonderful music. It was as thrilling as tap dancing alongside Tommy Tune in My One and Only. It was as thrilling as being in Mack & Mabel with Jerry Herman playing the piano. There have been some great moments in my life and I’m so grateful to have had those opportunities. They just come out of the blue. I didn’t ask for that. I didn’t even know they were doing the Pippin national tour. I got a call from the producer. He said, “We’re putting together the national tour of the Broadway version.” I was a Tony voter at the time and I had seen that show. I said, “Barry, you’re not asking me to do the grandma number are you [laughs]?” He asked, “Does it scare you?” Yes! “Do you want to do it?” Yes!
GS: Did Andrea Martin have any advice or suggestions for you?
LA: No. By the time I met Andrea, I was already two weeks into rehearsal. She’s an inspiration. The fact that she could do it, and I saw two other ladies, including Tovah Feldshuh and Annie Potts do it, and Priscilla Lopez. You can be trained to do it. It’s not impossible. They gave me hope! To do that for seven months was thrilling.
GS: 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of the Neil Diamond remake of The Jazz Singer, which also co-starred Laurence Olivier. Is there a special memory of that movie that you’d like to share?
LA: That was a thrilling time for me. I left They’re Playing Our Song to go do that. I had to leave the Broadway show and say goodbye to that whole thing. To get a chance to work with Neil Diamond, who was not an actor, but he’s Neil Diamond, for God’s sake! To be around him every day and sit in a Winnebago with him at lunch time and watch him compose that music on his guitar. It was a dream come true. And then you’re working with, arguably, the greatest actor that ever lived, Sir Laurence Olivier! But I only had one true speaking scene with Sir Larry. It makes me laugh, because people ask, “What was it like working with Laurence Olivier?” I say, “Well, I wasn’t really working with him.” They say, “You did that wonderful scene with him.” I say, “Yes, I said, ‘How do you do, Cantor Rabinovitch?’” He grabbed his collar and tore it and said (in a German accent), “I haff no son!” and he left [laughs]. That was my scene with Laurence Olivier. I got to be on the set. I would stay. I had my 35mm camera around my neck and I would take pictures. He gave me full access to shoot him in the dressing room or whatever I wanted to do. I got to know the guy more than I got to act with him. It was a dream come true.
GS: An upcoming episode of the sitcom Will & Grace filmed a tribute episode to I Love Lucy in November 2019 to be aired this spring. What do you think about that?
LA: I was in it! It’s one of the last shows of their final season. It was delightful. I never do stuff like that. Max Mutchnick, the producer and writer, called me and told me what they were intending, and the great fondness the whole cast and writers and producers have for I Love Lucy. They always have had tremendous respect for the show. They did an amazing, fun, but crazy accurate tribute to three or four of the episodes all mixed together with one focal point episode that allows you to jump into all the others. It was truly magical. It was stunning what they were able to do. I had one little cameo walk-on. I had a great time! I love those guys anyway. I love those actors. They’re decent, wonderful, funny people. I’m excited to see it all put together.
GS: Do you, as an actress and singer, have an awareness of an LGBTQ+ following for your career?
LA: Oh, my God, yeah! Totally! I think I have more LGBTQ friends and fans than straight people. My total belief in all of this is that we’re all both. We just use qualities of ourselves in different ways. Our feminine comes out, our masculine comes out. I’m always comfortable with people who are comfortable with that. They don’t care that they have a feminine side if they’re a guy. They don’t care if they have a masculine side if they’re a woman. Those are sides we should embrace. Some of my nicest, most wonderful appreciators – I don’t like to call them fans, because fans sound like fanatics and I don’t think they’re fanatics – I think they’re appreciators. People who come to the shows and come back again and again and write you letters and say, “That was good! I want to get tickets again.” I don’t know why, maybe it’s my humor. I’m a very accepting person anyway. I think to be an LGBTQ person can be terribly hard. You’ve had to go through some rough patches finding out who you are. But you know what? We all do! We all have to figure out if we’re good enough, if people accept us, how to say who we are and feel like what we’re doing is enough. I spend a lot of time in my life trying to see the unity, the oneness in all of this.
GS: Finally, are there any upcoming theater, film or television projects about which you’d like to tell the readers?
LA: I’m not doing a lot of television. It was unique for me to even do the Will & Grace cameo. I don’t spend a lot of time looking for TV shows. I spend most of my time on the road now singing; directing once in a while. When a Pippin comes along for me, it’s like, “Oh, I have to!” Mostly it’s the music world for me. I am going to co-produce the Cate Blanchett/Aaron Sorkin film about my folks that Amazon Studios is producing. We’re in the process of talking to directors now. It should be happening in the next year or so.