Seven Questions for Lucie Arnaz

The Emmy Award winner talks about her parents, her dad’s native Cuba and a special part of the Lucy-Desi history that will accompany her to The Smith Center 

photo courtesy of nyk-rapp

Photo courtesy of nyk-rapp

Many think of you as an actress, but it seems you’ve been concentrating more on music lately.

For 27 years I have been doing concerts and performing in nightclubs, and I love, love, love doing it. I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t for my father’s influence. When he died, I found tapes of his, some original recordings that no one had unless they were real collectors. I started listening to them and hearing what his big-band days were like. I wanted to be him! I wanted to have a band and perform like him.

Did you start a band right away?

Oh, no. It was about four to six months later that I started getting offers to do these shows and I said, “No, no, no, why are you even asking me?” I didn’t even know why the offers were made. One thing led to another and holy smoke, now I’m doing just what I wanted to do when my dad died. I’m playing clubs like the [famed New York] Rainbow Room. About 10 years ago, someone said “You should do a CD,” and that’s why I started doing these numbers to salute him, [such as] “El Cumbanchero” and “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A,” things from my dad, Irving Berlin, the whole Latin Roots album [released in 2010].

Why bring the show to Vegas?

I do have friends who sort of dread going there, but I have never felt that way. I love it there. I am a throwback. I went there all the time with my mom to see the Rat Pack, Wayne Newton, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, Sammy Davis Jr. and so many others. Now I’m performing there. I’m selfish, though, because I want to bring this to Vegas in a big way, too. I’d love to do a residency or play a room like Donny and Marie Osmond [at the Flamingo]. But I love Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center. It’s smaller, so I can’t get off the stage and do costume changes or have all 12 musicians with me. Now I have nine and I just wear one thing, but that’s fine. It’s a great room—a very special, beautiful place—and run so well. The technical staff and acoustics are the best.

Do you find that many second-generation entertainers either have horrible memories of their families and want to separate themselves completely from them or are very proud of their parents and want to
carry on their legacy?

Both those things can be true. My parents were divorced when I was 7. My dad was an alcoholic. My mom had a bad temper. There were drugs and alcohol throughout my childhood. In many ways I have some bad memories, but I have some very good ones, too. And I have a lot of talent I’ve been able to pull from these two incredible people. They opened up the world to me, and life is good. Sure, there was difficult, challenging stuff, but everybody’s life is like that. It’s all part of who we are. How it affects you depends on how you deal with it. I have so much gratitude for where I am at this point. I’ve been married for 35½ years [to actor, playwright and director Laurence Luckinbill], and we have five great kids.

Dare I ask if you might bring the conga drum your dad played to the Vegas show?

My brother has the conga drum my dad played. It is huge! I can’t lift it. I have the conga drums Little Ricky played in I Love Lucy. They’re about 3 feet high and the head is about 6 inches across. My son played it, and I have it now. I also have my mom’s ukulele. I’m going to bring the drum with me and play it in the show.

The Lucy Desi Museum in Jamestown, New York, pays tribute to your parents. Are you involved with that?

I’m not on the board anymore. My brother Desi and I left the board because they weren’t paying attention to what we were saying. There was nothing terrible going on—we just didn’t like the direction they were going. Now there is a new board of directors, and they came to us and said, ‘We want your input about what we do next.’ We asked that they go back to what our mom said she wanted in the beginning, which is to honor the art of comedy and show how healing it is. They are doing a lot of great things there now both at the museum and other places. It’s my mom’s hometown, and I’m sure my mom would have been very proud and excited.

I’m guessing you have been following recent news about your dad’s homeland of Cuba?

Yes! I’m dying to go there. I was supposed to go on a Lucy Desi cruise this month, but it didn’t work out. I was at the White House [coincidentally] on December 17 and saw a lot of activity and [news] cameras. I asked if something big had happened, if I should be afraid of something.  … They said no. It turned out that was the day they opened relations with Cuba! I am definitely going. Now when I sing “I Will See You in C-U-B-A,” I am not just dreaming. I will really go.

Lucie Arnaz: Latin Roots

7 p.m. Jan. 15-16, Cabaret Jazz, $39-$55,