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Mary & Ethel... and Mikey Who?
by Stephen Cole
Book Review by Zander Opper

Mary & Ethel... and Mikey Who? is a wonderfully written new novel by Stephen Cole. In this page-turner of a book, the author has, as the inside jacket of the book states, "taken his real-life friendships with Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, the two undisputed queens of Broadway, and tossed them in a blender and come up with a fantasy about a nerdy super-fan in the 1980s ... who stumbles into a time portal in [Merman's] closet and exits on the other side in Sophie Tucker's dressing room at the Imperial Theatre in 1939." It says a lot about the novel that this scenario is only the beginning of the adventures that the hero, named Mikey Minkus, travels throughout this existential, Broadway-enriched story.

And though Mary & Ethel... and Mikey Who? will primarily appeal to fans of musical theatre and the two divas at the center of this tale, the author also incorporates Mikey Minkus' journey as a young man and, essentially, how he comes to terms with himself and his life. For those who think that this book is simply about Broadway worshiping and historical lore, Mary & Ethel... and Mikey Who? is unexpectedly deeply moving, with many breathtaking and tear-inducing moments throughout. Cole has done his homework fashioning this time-traveling, almost "Twilight Zone"-like journey and made it into quite a riveting adventure.

When the book begins, Mikey is living in the basement of his mother's house. His interactions with his mother Rifka are very funny, with a lot of amusing Yiddish thrown in for good measure. Rifka refers to Mikey's idol Ethel Merman as "Miss Loudmouth" and basically dismisses his adoration for Merman and Mary Martin and musical theatre. Through a series of complications, Mikey takes a time machine of sorts to many key moments in Broadway history. Not to give too much away, but Mikey appears at such historical events as Merman and Martin meeting for the first time; the two stars doing a duet on the legendary Ford 50th Anniversary television show in 1953; and backstage at the 1960 Tony Awards, when both of Mikey's idols were nominated for Best Actress in a Musical.

This is some heady stuff to absorb but, as the book deepens, the focus gradually shifts to Mikey growing up and accepting himself and his life. He gets to be a witness to people in his family from the past, creating heartwarming events that he only wished could actually have happened. Through this fantastical novel, there are many prominent Broadway people spotlighted, including Jerome Robbins, Benay Venuta, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, and (my favorite) Mikey getting to see a performance of Ray Bolger in By Jupiter. It is unclear if the conversations between Merman and Martin truly occurred, but this book feels authentic from start to finish. There were hardly any known factual errors that I could spot.

Mary & Ethel... and Mikey Who? is a document of Cole's real-life friendships with these two idols and he lets his imagination run wild, letting his alter-ego Mikey experience a wide range of events, some of which can be quite frightening and others that can break your heart. One hopes that the book will reach a wider audience than just show fans and lovers of Broadway musical history, for readers are bound to be thrilled and enticed by Mikey's adventures, with Mary & Ethel guiding him every step of the way. At the very heart of the book is a young man growing up and learning to come to terms with his life and to, ultimately, truly celebrate who he is and the people he loves so dearly.

Mary & Ethel... and Mikey Who?
By Stephen Cole
216 pages
Moreclacke Publishing
Publication Date: January 16, 2024
ISBN: 979-8985934458
Hardcover / Kindle Edition / Audible Audiobook