Bill Mendieta, who's currently bringing Ricky Ricardo to life in I LOVE LUCY: LIVE ON STAGE, has had no issues making 'Babalu' his own. The actor, who originated the role in Los Angeles, and won a BroadwayWorld Award for his performance, has followed the show for its Midwestern premiere at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
Prior to leading the band in LUCY, Mendieta has also appeared in SMASH, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and HAMLET.
In addition, the actor just finished shooting the feature film, DEAD BORDER. Other film credits include SOLIDER OF GOD, A NIGHTAT THE ROOSEVELT, THE CALLBACK MACIHE, TRES, GROK, and more. Mendieta also co-created and directed the comedy web series, MOB BOSS ASSOCIATE.
Mendieta recently chatted with BroadwayWorld, shedding some light on I LOVE LUCY's stage transformation, and what it took to become the master of ceremonies, Ricky Ricardo.
Thanks for talking with us! How are you resettling into Chicago?
It's beautiful here in Chicago. It's a nice city that really seems to appreciate its theater!
Thanks for talking with us! How are you resettling into Chicago after the extension? Congratulations, by the way! How does that feel? Chicagoans really seem to love LUCY.
Oh, it's great! I'm actually really enjoying it. Chicago audiences are really wonderful, really receptive, and really warm. We're having a great time doing it. It's good with the big audiences. They're laughing and they're having fun. This is a really nice theater town. It's nice because the audiences do show their appreciation and I really get the sense that Chicago likes its theater.
So how did you originally come to be involved with LUCY back in Los Angeles?
It happened a couple of years ago. It was one of those times when I was sitting at home, and I was like, "Okay, I've got to do something." Usually the projects I get involved with, I want to have some inspired passion to do it. So I was looking through some of the casting notices, and I found this one for an I LOVE LUCY project...and it attracted me because I knew the writing was good. I knew the classic sitcom material would challenge me. So I thought, 'I'm going to sink my teeth into that.'
I felt sure that I could do Ricky Ricardo - and that it would be a good role to do. To try and really master the classic sitcom style sounded like it would be a lot of fun. And eventually it grew into something more, and more, and more.
So then [the show] went into production in LA, and they wanted a 'proof of concept.' They wanted to prove to CBS - it was the first time CBS had allowed these scripts to be done live - they wanted to prove that this could be successful. So that's what the LA production had to do. And it was hugely successful. It sold out profusely. By the time we closed, there were still thousands on the waiting list trying to get tickets. That was quite nice and reassuring. Then they had the option to bring it to Chicago and they took that option, and it's turned out to be really wonderful. They wanted to cast locally here, and it's seemed to work out wonderfully. We had a great cast in Los Angeles. And we were blessed again here that everyone in the cast was just wonderful. We have a great time. Sometimes we hang out and, you know, go swing dancing up at the Drake Hotel on Saturdays. Sometimes we have a game night with each other. You know, it's been a lot of fun. It's been a great family experience, as well.
That's great. How valuable is that family experience to the show, and to you?
I think that's the key to pulling this project off. When we did our research, I was learning that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, in forming Desilu, had became a family as well with everyone involved...I think in creating what we were very fortunate to have, we fell into that similar feeling: we're having lots of fun. There's a lot of laughter onstage, backstage, in rehearsals. It's been a pleasure. It's really been a fun theatrical experience.
What more can you ask for?
Yeah, yeah. It's really been a great job. Ironically enough, Sirena [Irwin], who plays Lucy, and I, actually went to college together. So we knew each other from San Francisco State many years ago. We knew of each other along the years, but we hadn't worked together since. It was quite coincidental and nice - it worked out for this situation. Immediately we had a familiarity and trust, and you know, it's really good. She's grown to be one of my dearest friends. It's very sweet.