Being the daughter of a famous couple has its advantages. For Lucie Arnaz, the oldest child of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, it meant growing up on television and acquiring an insider’s perspective on the entertainment industry to complement her natural talent. This served her well on Broadway stages as well as films such as 1980’s The Jazz Singer, but most importantly it meant being exposed to her father’s musical heritage and absorbing his mannerisms. Arnaz pays tribute to that inheritance with Latin Roots, a show that draws on the music her father started playing in nightclubs to impart her own journey as an entertainer.
The origin of the show itself, however, began with a discovery. “It wasn’t until after he died that I found this collection of original songs on CD, and he had left 300 arrangements to them,” said Arnaz. “It took me a few years before I had the wherewithal to actually use any of it, but it ended up being something that I’m very fortunate to have.”
Finding the cache led to Arnaz producing and directing Babalu – The American Songbook Goes Latin with Lucie Arnaz, a 2010 show at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. The show, which ran for five performances as part of the Upper West Side community and cultural center’s Lyrics and Lyricists concert series, featured a big band as well as her brother Desi Arnaz Jr. on percussion and Tony-nominated actor Raúl Esparza on vocals. “We called it Babalubecause we wanted to pay tribute to the Latin music craze as seen through strictly the music of the Desi Arnaz orchestra, because I had at the time all my father’s charts, his original charts from his band,” said Arnaz. “It took about eight months and we produced a fabulous show.”
Arnaz also had an album out that year titled Latin Roots, an exploration of south-of-the-border sounds that included Desi Arnaz’s arrangement of the Afro-Cuban song “Babalu.” It also included standards by Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer, hits from her childhood such as “Fools Rush In” and “Johnny Angel,” and personal favorite such as Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band.” Arnaz decided to combine arrangements from Babalu with selections from Latin Roots for a handful of live performances in 2012, and likely would have continued if she had not joined the cast ofPippin later that year for a revival that made its way to The Smith Center.
“I’m back now and I want to do more of these shows,” she said. “The first place we decided to do it was The Smith Center. I love that place. I played in the big room with Pippin, and they asked me if I would like to book a show in Cabaret Jazz.”
The Smith Center is the first place that Arnaz presents the latest incarnation of her nightclub act dedicated to her father. Arnaz pulls out all the stops, displaying gifts that derive from both genetics and an upbringing that enabled constant up-close observation of her parents’ talents. Her evocation of Desi Arnaz’s stage presence is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with his performances on I Love Lucy.
“You can imagine how organic that is because I’ve been there my whole life watching that, and him performing for me at home and on TV, at benefits,” said Arnaz. “I’ve lived it probably more than anyone. It’s been like osmosis but I know what makes him tick, I know where he’s coming from and I’m not doing an impersonation. It’s a celebration, really, of my soul beneath his soul, and it’s always been something that moved me. To be able to get up and do that music after all these years is just phenomenal. It’s a celebration to me, and in my heart it’s a joy.”
Tickets for Lucie Arnaz: Latin Roots for Jan. 15 and 16 are on sale now online here and via phone at 702.749.2000.
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