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Berwyn

'I Love Lucy' hits stage with Berwyn actor as Fred Mertz

“I Love Lucy: Live on Stage” stars Joanna Daniels (as Ethel Mertz, from left), Sirena Irwin (Lucy Ricardo) and Curtis Pettyjohn (Fred Mertz).
“I Love Lucy: Live on Stage” stars Joanna Daniels (as Ethel Mertz, from left), Sirena Irwin (Lucy Ricardo) and Curtis Pettyjohn (Fred Mertz).

Six decades later, it’s impossible to forget Lucille Ball in her signature role as Lucy in one of the most beloved television programs in history. Instead of just tuning in old episodes, a little theater magic makes it possible to slip back in time to be part of a 1952 studio audience.

“I Love Lucy: Live on Stage,” playing the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, was just extended through St. Patrick's Day. Berwyn’s own Curtis Pettyjohn stars as Lucy and Ricky’s friend Fred Mertz, as the musical comedy recreates two original episodes adapted for the stage.

Pettyjohn got his start in theater when he was just 15. Among his many credits, he was an original Chicago cast member of "Shear Madness" for 1,300 performances. He also maintains a private practice as a therapeutic body worker (pettyjohnbodytherapy.com). Pettyjohn talks about being part of the beloved foursome of “I Love Lucy.”

Tell me a little bit about the show and your character.

It’s a brand new production that was first performed in L.A., so they’re characters that haven’t been played on stage before. It’s an amazing opportunity, and Fred Mertz feels like a really comfortable coat. Fred and Ethel Mertz own the apartment building that Lucy and Ricky live in, and they become best friends. Fred is known for being a tightwad and a skin flint — he’s crusty and he gets to say cranky things when other people don’t. But underneath, he’s a teddy bear of a person. To get to play a nice person and a cranky person is cool. Fred and Ethel are old vaudeville performers, and they’re always looking for a chance to perform again.

What parts of 'I Love Lucy' are you recreating?

What we’re doing is performing two episodes with the original scripts — which we leased from CBS. We chose two that have a lot of music and dance in them. We have an emcee who is also the warm-up act, television commercials are performed live, and the audience becomes a character in the whole thing. Many people who have not heard some of the commercials for many years … can’t help singing along. What I’ve found to be really wonderful is that it bridges generations. Not only do older folks love it, but we have three generations coming in together to see it and everyone loves it. To hear kids laughing at material that hasn’t been performed since 1952, shows it’s still funny. And it’s wholesome, good, clean fun.

What’s the best part about working on this production?


It has been the nicest group of people I’ve ever worked with. There’s an intention from the people putting this together that it’s a love letter to Lucy. It’s done with a sense of honor and affection, and I think that we’ve grown with the entire experience. It’s become a really warm family to be working with, and when people are in the audience, they get a strong feeling of that too.

See the show

What:
“I Love Lucy: Live on Stage” brings back Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel

When: Wednesday through Sunday, extended through April 7

Where: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago

How much: $35 to $85; BroadwayInChicago.com, (800) 775-2000

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