The death of revered composer Marvin Hamlisch has stunned and saddened colleagues and fans the world over. In Nashville, where he made several appearances over the years with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and his music for The Nutty Professor is now playing at Tennessee Performing Arts Center in a pre-Broadway run, the shocking news has understandably hit quite hard.
Hamlisch, who was 68, collapsed and died Monday after a brief illness, according to a news release from his publicist Ken Sunshine that cited Hamlisch’s family. Other details were not released.
“We’re greatly saddened by it. Marvin was an American treasure,” TPAC President and CEO Kathleen O’Brien told ArtsNash.
O’Brien, who handled the center’s public relations at the time, recalled accompanying Hamlisch as he did publicity for a January 1989 TPAC appearance. “I was really able to see the wit Marvin had. He was reading the words off road signs as we drove along, composing music to them,” she said. “It was wonderful being around him.”
Reactions from those associated with the Jerry Lewis-helmed production came swiftly today on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Hamlisch, who visited Nashville in July for a party held to welcome The Nutty Professor company to the city, was scheduled to return this week to see the show, the news release noted.
“A sad day in Music,” Mac Pirkle, the musical’s Nashville producer, wrote on his Facebook page. “It was a privilege to have known him and an incredible joy to have been part of his work on The Nutty Professor. My heartfelt sympathies to his family.”
“Marvin was very proud of the songs he and Rupert Holmes wrote for The Nutty Professor,” wrote Michael Andrew, who plays Julius Kelp and Buddy Love. “I was with Marvin and Jerry when they first met about “nutty” in Las Vegas; It was a meeting I’ll never forget. The (two) men told some stories and then shook hands; I knew Marvin was on board.
“There were many other meetings and sessions over the past (five) years where Marvin held court and shared his brilliance. I was in awe of his sharp wit and musical genius. I am so proud to be singing these songs that Marvin and Rupert created for us. Tonight will be bitter sweet as we all think about Marvin as we perform some of his most treasured masterpieces.”
“I’m blessed to have worked (with) Marvin Hamlisch. He’ll be missed beyond words. Thank you for believing in me. ” wrote Marissa McGowan, the show’s Stella Purdy, in a Twitter post accompanied by a picture of her singing with Hamlisch at the piano.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of Marvin Hamlisch passing away today. He was a genuine character, the real deal,” wrote Klea Blackhurst (Miss Lemon in the musical) on Facebook. “The Nutty Professor has some transcendent moments and a terrific score! I think the world will be delighted when they hear what Marvin has been up to… I have been elated during this experience. A real dream come true. Watching Marvin work with orchestrator Larry Hochman to get it out of his head and into a score, watching Marvin be the only person in the room NOT moving with the music because he’s concentrating so hard… watching a genius at work. “While I Still Have The Time” will be the big take away hit from the Nutty Professor. How perfect. My love and gratitude to Rupert Holmes for putting a beautiful lyric to Marvin’s giant melody. “Stop and savor each drop of time…” done.”
“I absolutely have no words,” castmember Meghan Glogower (Kimberly, Dot) posted. “Marvin Hamlisch, we will miss you and I hope we do you proud tonight.”
Over on the musical’s Facebook page it read: “Marvin Frederick Hamlisch 1944 – 2012 “Thank you Marvin, for all you gave us. We are honored to be singing your songs.” – Your Nutty Family(.)”
And Lewis’ daughter Danielle posted the following through her Facebook account for members of the cast: “Dear and wonderful company of the Nutty Professor, if you think you’ve worked hard wait until tonight. You are going to have to call on things that make you the professionals that you are. So do the show tonight with Marvin in mind and your work will be impeccable. I love you all. Sincerely, Jerry.”
Hamlisch spoke about the musical inspired by the beloved 1963 film of the same name – and the Music City – with great enthusiasm in a July 11 interview with ArtsNash for a feature article. “There’s definitely a positive feeling in the air. I think that’s true of the lyrics (by Rupert Holmes) and the music,” he said. “And I think it’s wonderful to be trying out a show in Nashville. I like Nashville very much. I think … this is a very important try-out that will decide what our future is.
“If the audiences come in and love this show, then I think we have a real good chance of moving on. If the people come in and don’t love the show, I would say, ‘Well, might as well get us a few good Country/Western albums and get the hell out.’ So that’s what it’s about. There’s a lot at stake. But I feel rather confident.”
Hamlisch held the positions of principal pops conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and Pops, Seattle Symphony and San Diego Symphony. He had been scheduled to appear with Alison Brown and the Nashville Symphony in February but had to cancel for health reasons. Former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen stepped in to fill that Bank of America Pops Series slot. His most recent appearance came in 2008 when he was joined at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center by Lari White.
“He was not only a great composer but a great entertainer who was so charming on the stage, and audiences loved him,” NSO President and CEO Alan Valentine told ArtsNash. “He was a great musician, a consummate professional and someone we all deeply admired, respected and loved. Our heartfelt condolences to Marvin’s family and to his fans all over the world.”
Hamlisch and composer Richard Rodgers are the only artists to win the Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Pulitzer Prize. In addition to his three Academy Awards, four Grammys, four Emmys, one Tony and the Pulitzer Hamlisch won three Golden Globes among numerous other honors.
His remarkable list of credits on Broadway and on film include A Chorus Line, They’re Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl, Sweet Smell of Success, The Way We Were, The Sting, Sophie’s Choice, Ordinary People, Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Save the Tiger, and The Informant!.
Hamlisch was a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Queens College, according to his official website.
UPDATE: The company of The Nutty Professor issued this statement before the curtain went up on Tuesday’s performance:
“Six years ago, Marvin Hamlisch joined Jerry Lewis, Rupert Holmes, Ned McLeod and Michael Andrew to create a Broadway musical adaptation of the 1963 classic Jerry Lewis comedy, The Nutty Professor. Their collaboration and commitment to a Broadway dream delivered this special musical on stage in Nashville – where we are blessed with Marvin’s joyous spirit through his wonderful music.
“Our hearts are broken with the loss of this amazing and giving artist, truly one of the great composers of our time. But our voices will always be lifted up through his songs that will live forever. Thank you Marvin, we are honored to be singing your songs, and your presence is always heartfelt in this company. We will be so very proud to perform for you tonight.”
*Photo of Marvin Hamlisch by Len Price and photo of Rupert Holmes, Jerry Lewis and Marvin Hamlisch at July 9 Nashville Welcome Party courtesy TPAC and The Nutty Professor Musical.