Lucie Arnaz is rooted in showbiz. The daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (“I Love Lucy”) and wife of actor Laurence Luckinbill, the singer-actress has been performing since she was a child, appearing alongside her mother in “The Lucy Show” in the early 1960s and on “Here’s Lucy” from 1968 to 1974. Over the years, Arnaz has appeared in a variety of movies and TV shows, including starring in her own sitcom. Some of her greatest successes, however, 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, the former Katonah resident — now a Palm Springs, California, resident — could not be kinder or more fun to talk to. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing her about her career:
Lucie, you are scheduled to perform in concert June 3 through 6 at Feinstein’s/54 Below in Manhattan. I’d like to begin by asking you who you consider to be your inspirations when it comes to singing.
“Oh, my God, the list is long. (laughs) It’s kind of eclectic. I would say people who pay attention to lyric 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.”
“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?”
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”?
“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 backup 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.”
You mentioned that you’ve done other musicals 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?
“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.’”
Did Andrea Martin have any advice or suggestions for you?
“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.”
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?
“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 lunchtime 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 Yiddish 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.”
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?
“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.”
Are there any other upcoming theater, film or television projects about which you’d like to tell the readers?
“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.”
Seeing as how this interview is for WAG, I was wondering how long it was that you lived in Katonah and what it was that drew you there?
“We bought our property in 1983. We had purchased a huge chunk of farm land with a tiny 1860s house and an enormous barn and grain cornfields way north near Albany as an investment and found ourselves fixing up the house and trying to vacation there, but it was just too far away. And then Larry said he had seen a note on the bulletin board at one of his kids’ schools that mentioned a 15-acre property for sale in Katonah, New York. He said it was much closer to New York City and he had memorized the phone number.
“So, we went to see it that very weekend on our way back into the city. We first fell in love with the abundance of huge old trees, and then the 4-acre pond, the rolling meadows, the Cape Cod house with big bay windows on each side. It was like an Andrew Wyeth or Currier & Ives painting. It was our Tara. A week later we owned it. We renovated it into a spectacular big rambling barn-like manor with our office over the garage so I wouldn’t have to commute and could be there for the kids. We have never loved a property more. We only moved to Connecticut because the Westchester taxes were completely unpredictable and it became untenable. It broke our hearts.”
What did you like best about living in Westchester County?
“Its proximity to New York. We had few real friends in that area except parents at our kids’ school. But just living in the beautiful countryside and participating in 26 years of the changes of season up there was unforgettable and one of the highlights for me was having my first published stories and interviews in (WAG).”
Finally, what do you miss the most about living in Westchester County?
“Living at 4 Flintlock Ridge Road.”
Lucie Arnaz is slated to perform at 7 p.m., June 3 through 6, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 W. 54th St. Cellar in Manhattan. For more, visit 54below.com.