"You're playing your theatre," I point out to Lucie Arnaz, who Broadway-debuted at the Imperial Theatre in They're Playing Our Song a quarter of a century ago. Save for the astounding arithmetic, it seems like old times to her. "Some of the same ushers are here, some of the same stagehands," she beams, gesturing to the They're Playing Our Song softball team T-shirt draped across her dressing-room sofa. "One of them gave me that. And Kate McAleer, my dresser - she had never been a dresser before They're Playing Our Song. I started her in the wardrobe-dressing profession, and she has never been out of work."
The Imperial has always been an Arnaz launching pad. Dad Desi debuted there in Too Many Girls, the Rodgers and Hart show that got him to Hollywood and the arms of Lucille Ball.
Their daughter's only other Broadway appearance, replacing a Tony-winning Mercedes Ruehl in Lost in Yonkers, occurred right next door to the Imperial at the Richard Rodgers. "I only appear on 46th Street," she says with mock finality. "That's my Broadway street."
The role that has brought her back home is Muriel Eubanks, a glamorous, game and (in the purest, 30's sense of the adjective) gay divorcee who's prey for the cons of Cannes in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. David Yazbek has provided her with a couple of quirky, contemporary songs - including the haunting "What Was a Woman To Do?" which she likens to baying at the moon - and Jeffrey Lane has given her a brittle broad to play. "I love every moment I have onstage. They're crystal-clear, perfect jewels, and every one of them works. I can't remember the last time I was in a show where I got so many fun jokes to say. They're Playing Our Song was mostly Robert Klein's show as far as jokes went."
Arnaz is one of a handful fearless and fit enough to follow a hard act like Joanna Gleason into a role. They even come across on the same classy wavelength. "Joanna sent me that bouquet of pink peonies, lilacs and sterling silver roses," she says, pointing to some flowers on the shelf, "my absolute three favorite flowers. So I called her to thank her and said, 'Who'd you call to find out?' She said, 'No one. Those are my three favorite flowers.' She's such a witch! She was in Into the Woods too long!" So how does it feel being back on Broadway? "Like I never left. I get choked up when I talk about it because this is such a welcoming community. When you've had a theatrical success here, the community knows it - and by the community, I don't mean just actors and producers but the restaurateurs, the guys in the gift shops, the cab drivers. Once you've had that success - it could be 10 years later or 20 - they still say, 'Oh, Miss Arnaz.' And you get a nice table at Sardi's or Orso's. There's tenure when you do Broadway. I used to say when I was in They're Playing Our Song that walking up and down the street during the week - say, from 6:00 to 7:30 every night - was like being in Broadway U, like you're on campus. There are all these students majoring and minoring in things, the professors, the janitors - but you're all in the same university, doing the same thing, teaching and learning at the same time."
Arnaz has stayed theatrically active doing nightclubs, regional theatres and tours while she and Laurence Luckinbill raise their three children, now in college and in their twenties.
Also, she and her brother Desi manage Desilu too, the company that runs the business of their parents' estates. "When you're trying to run your own life and career, you don't want to always be associated with that legacy, but about three years ago I decided to embrace the legacy part of it. The mission statement we have for the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York - my mother's hometown - includes not only preserving their artifacts and legacy but trying to enrich the world through the healing power of love and laughter. 'I Love Lucy' has lasted 55 years. Why do people still come up to me and say how much they loved the show? Well, it was funny. That's right. But what's great about funny? Why does funny matter?
"Anything that gets you to release the stress in your life and really laugh is worthwhile. It can heal the planet. It truly can, and it actually has. Norman Cousins wrote a whole book about it. One of the biggest joys for me every night is being in a show as healing as this one. People are bent over screaming with laughter, and that is such a healthy thing to do."