05/05/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Funny Girl: Covering 30 years of Lucille Ball—from her blonde ingenue days to the last episode of I Love Lucy—Broadway star Rachel York, 34, plays the TV icon in the May 4 CBS biopic Lucy. Redheaded comic "Debra Messing looks a lot more like Lucy than I do," says York. But transformed by two dozen wigs and hours of makeup, "I wasn't intimidated by the legends."
Hair: "Every time they took the pins out of the red Lucy wig, the curls would fall, and I'd look like Little Orphan Annie," says York. "So I'd break out singing, 'The sun'll come out to-mor-rah!' "
The Sound of Music: York, who got her big Broadway break in City of Angels in 1989, has been stealing scenes since she was a kid in Orlando. The youngest of four "would sing and dance to the Grease soundtrack," recalls her sister Mary, 38. York says with a wince, ' "I Honestly Love You' by Olivia Newton-John was probably the first song I sang in public."
42nd Street: Moving to New York City at 19 to perform in musical theater, York honed her comedy chops in unusual places. "One night I was all alone on the subway platform, and these characters moved in on me," York says. "I kept making jokes. I was mugging to get out of being mugged. It took 45 minutes for that train to show up. By then, they were completely confused."
Aspects of Love: Her onscreen chemistry with Lucy's Desi Arnaz, The Shield's Danny Pino, "was kismet," she says. "Unfortunately, he's married." York, who relocated to L.A. last year to pursue a film career, wants a man of her own, but "there has to be this great connection," she says. "And then I have to be able to live with him, so I guess I'm asking for the moon and the stars."