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The Vivian Vance Story

Jan McArt presents a staged reading of Eric H. Weinberger’s play with music The Vivian Vance Story as the first installment of Lynn University’s 2015- 2016 Play Reading Series at the Wold Performing Arts Center. Jan McArt runs an award-winning play reading series at Lynn University, where playwrights get the chance to bring a new play to life, working with a cast and a director for six days – all the while rehearsing and re-writing. Then, at the end of the six days, their newly polished, reworked play is presented to the public in a fully staged performance.  The actors perform scripts in hand with minimal costumes, sets, lighting, etc., to aid them in the presentation of the new work.

Key West based playwright Eric H. Weinberger said: “I was a huge I Love Lucy fan growing up, and I still love to watch that show. It always makes me laugh out loud. I looked up Vivian Vance on the internet and saw that there had been a retrospective of her life in her hometown of Albuquerque, NM a couple of years ago, at a museum,”. Vivian’s baby sister, Lou Ann Graham (now 91), was very instrumental in making that happen; and I got in contact with a local TV station in Albuquerque who put me in touch with her. She’s a lovely woman and has been so kind and helpful to me with the editing of my play, with corrections on inaccurate information I had researched, and with providing me new information and insights that I believe have deepened and strengthened the play.” 

The play travels in time form 1926-1979 in various places Vivian Vance lived, such as Albuquerque, New York City and Hollywood.  The script itself skims the surface of Vance’s issues with mental health a bit too lightly to allow the actress portraying her, Leigh Bennett, really dig into the character with much shading. While the show waxes biographical, it doesn’t deliver much in the way of really letting us know Vivian inside. It seems clear enough that the author and or the actress herself was certainly set on letting us know that she was far more attractive in real life than her character of Ethel Mertz played on I Love Lucy..  Thankfully Bennett has enough of the general look and feel of Vance to make the role work as a whole.  Her own singing voice (a very healthy chest belt sound) is so different than Vance’s that it actually takes us a bit out of the moment when she does sing. 

Nicholas Richberg is quite good as Desi Arnaz, as well as Vance’s husbands – giving us brief looks at each of their characters. Niki Fryd is a strong character actress whose portrayal of Vance’s overly religious mother is comedically scene stealing. Michael H. Small is very enjoyable in “Carolina in the Morning” singing and dancing as Fred Mertz alongside Bennett as Ethel Mertz. Other than that however, his gravely-voiced William Frawley comes off sounding very New York Yiddish/Jewish. 

Mia Matthews is on the money as Lucille Ball in the scenes taken directly from the I Love Lucy show when she is playing Lucy Ricardo. Outside of that she kind of loses us, perhaps because the public really only knew Lucille Ball from her shows, and generalize how she was off-stage. As she looks nothing like Lucy at all, it becomes difficult to maintain our belief in the character. In terms of the script, we are missing some of the relationship development between Lucy and Vivian as they grow to be friends.They somehow go from Lucy treating Vivian quite badly to being best of friends. We’d like to see the journey please!  After all- it’s hard to love Lucy without loving Vivian Vance as well! 

The Vivian Vance Story was performed for one night only on November 2, 2015 at Boca Raton’s Lynn University in the Keith C. & Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center. Season tickets ($30 for four plays) are now available for the entire 2015-2016 lineup, which includes: The Vivian Vance Story – a new play with music by Eric H. Weinberger on November 2nd, 2015, The Goldberg Variations– a new comedy by Stuart Meltzer on January 11th, 2016, Wave Your Flag–  a new play with music by Tony Finstrom on February 15th, 2016, and Middletown –  a new drama by Dan Clancy on March 7th, 2016. Single tickets are also currently available at $10 each. Show times are 7:30pm. For ticket purchase and further inflromation please call 561-237-9000 or go to for more information. 



Vivian Vance: Leigh Bennett*

Lucille Ball/Kathryn Kennedy O’Connor/Chorine/Phyllis Ober: Mia Matthews

Mother/Dr. Starbuck/Joanie/McCalls Interviewer/Nurse: Niki Fryd*

Desi Arnaz/Joe Danneck/Phil Ober/John Dodds/Reviewer: Nicholas Richberg*

William Frawley/Mr. Egan/Director/Producer/Reviewer: Michael H. Small

Narc Daniels/Director/Reviewer/Dectivitve/James/Host: Steven A. Chambers


*Indicates a member of Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.