ORLANDO — It was in May 2017 when Mickey Pettit, a veteran actor and singer in Central Florida, had one of his greatest artistic triumphs. In that month, he premiered his show Everything I Know I Learned From Ethel Merman at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival.
it was a sell-out show that drew rave reviews and won the Patron’s Pick award. Now, six years later, Ethel is back — with a one night only performance in the Big Apple.
“This is a kind of completely reconstructed version,” Mickey said. It opens on Tuesday, June 27 at 54 Below, a popular supper club at 254 W. 54th St. in NYC.
“I am frightened and more excited than I probably have ever been in my entire life,” Mickey said. “New York City is my place, I love it. Every performer’s dream is to perform in New York City.”
What is this Show About Ethel Merman?
Mickey, a veteran performer at Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Shows, created Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Ethel Merman as a 60-minute musical extravaganza that pays tribute to the Broadway and film legend. But it was far more than a simple tribute performance.
The one-man-show was highly autobiographical, spotlighting Mickey’s recollections about what it was like growing up gay in a Pentecostal household in the Bible Belt. His saviors became community theater, an old record player, and the vinyl recordings of Broadway’s greatest diva.
In the years since he performed at Fringe, Mickey noted that the show has continued to evolve.
“This is our first real huge out of town tryout in the new format,” he said. “The first time I did the show at Orlando Fringe, it was kind of therapeutic, how I pushed through the bad family and bad relationship with the bad mother, and it’s turned into this show about how I learned to cope with love. It went from being ‘Hey, I hate my family so here’s theater,’ to ‘Ethel taught me how to love myself and recognize love.’ “
After the original show was a smash at Fringe, Mickey took it on the road. But he had created the show years earlier.
“It had been sitting on my shelf for the better part of a decade,” he recalled. “It kind of just sat there and collected dust. Then when I got the chance to go to Fringe, I jumped at it.”
He also performed the show in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he got a similarly strong and positive response.
“It was great, I had a lot of people tell me ‘This material helped me, I really related to it,’ ” he said.
The show continued to change as Mickey’s own life did. Bad relationships changed his outlook, and so did a happy marriage to his husband.
“This version is about healing from things, and how I thought we were love and we weren’t, and how to recognize love,” Mickey said. “The format has changed drastically. I realized the reason Ethel wasn’t done was I didn’t have my happy ending. Now I have that happy ending, and that’s why it feels so right. I finally understand, this is what love is supposed to be.
“Now it is myself and a musical and a microphone, and it’s more like a conversation with song than anything else.”
How Did The Show get Booked in NYC?
With his new format, Mickey decided to submit the show for consideration at 54 Below.
“It took three days to get back to me and they said ‘We think this is perfect for our venue, how can we make this happen,’ ” he said. “If it reviews well, they will bring you back for an encore in a couple of months.”
For tickets to the performance at 54 Below, click here.
Mickey said he still owes a huge debt of gratitude to Orlando Fringe for helping him launch the show in 2017. He noted that Fringe’s producer at the time, Michael Marinaccio, was a great booster of the show.
“Michael Marinaccio was a huge push for my show,” he said. “He talked it up. Every day he would come talk to me, give me a hug and let me know how ticket sales were going. He let me know we had won Patron’s Pick. That was a huge emotional moment for me.”
He also thanked Matt Palm, the theater critic for the Orlando Sentinel, whose review helped him understand how he could improve the show.
“If it weren’t for Fringe, Ethel wouldn’t have had a life,” he said. “That’s the great thing about Fringe. Fringe gives you that.”
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.