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A Peek Behind the Curtain as ‘Nutty Professor’ Debut Approaches

PHOTOS FOR ARTSNASH BY RICK MALKIN

Nutty ProfessorWhat follows are photographs taken last Wednesday during the media day for The Nutty Professor at Tennessee Performing Arts Center. There are also some quote excerpts collected that day during and after a press conference, a rehearsal and (in the case of composer Marvin Hamlisch) by phone interview with ArtsNash. Previews of the new musical – based on Jerry Lewis’ beloved 1963 film of the same name with music by Hamlisch and book and lyrics by Rupert Holmes – begin July 24 in TPAC’s Polk Theater. Opening night of this world premiere show is July 31; the pre-Broadway run concludes Aug. 19. Go to www.nuttyprofessormusical.com for more information and tickets.

AT AFTERNOON REHEARSAL…

Nutty Professor 14Which way to rehearsal?

Nutty Professor 2Director Jerry Lewis talks to his leads: Marissa McGowan (Stella Purdy) and Michael Andrew (Professor Julius Kelp/Buddy Love).

Nutty Professor 20Lewis shows what he wants…

Nutty Professor 21He likes it!

Nutty Professor 5Professor Kelp makes his point about formulas to Stella…

Nutty Professor 6Just what formula is the Professor talking about?

Nutty Professor 3…Or should we say, singing about?

Nutty Professor 4It’s from the heart, Miss Purdy!

Nutty Professor 7The director takes it all in as assistant director Ray Roderick stands beside him…

Nutty Professor 16The legendary entertainer casts his keen eye on the proceedings as choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter leads the dance…

Nutty Professor 13Julius faces Jerry…

Nutty Professor 17Stella sings…

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE MUSIC FROM COMPOSER MARVIN HAMLISCH (A Chorus Line; Tony, Grammy, Oscar, Emmy and Pulitzer Prize winner): “The most important thing in the score was trying to make it into a show. Early on, it was ‘What’s movie, what’s show?’ I remember saying to Jerry early on, ‘You can’t hand me a movie script and think we can make a musical out of that script. What you need is a writer, a professional book writer who knows how to adapt a movie into a musical play.’ And that requires a lot. I think by getting (book writer and lyricist) Rupert (Holmes) they really achieved that.”

“Rupert and I tended to work somewhat separately, mostly on the phone, and then when we got together, we tried to give each of these characters, even Buddy Love, three dimensions. We worked to figure these people out, and leave enough Buddy in Kelp, and enough Kelp in Buddy. And I think that was the trick to this thing.”

“It appealed to me for a lot of reasons. I liked the idea that you’ve finally got to be happy with who you are, and that you’ve got to try to make yourself the best you can be without making a deal with the devil. I think that’s the key. I think once Julius realizes he’s Kelp, no matter how many (potions) he takes, that there’s a good guy named Kelp and he’s got to find happiness in that. I think that’s what (Stella) is feeling all the time, even when she’s being seduced by Buddy Love, she’s still feeling that ‘Kelpness’ in him.”

AND NOW BACK TO REHEARSAL…

Nutty Professor 18Buddy Love is one cool cat!

Nutty Professor 10Stella leads a cheer!

Nutty Professor 12The ensemble is in fine form!

Nutty Professor 9Buddy Love and the glee club reach an understanding…

Nutty Professor 8…That leads to a hellzapoppin’ number!

Nutty Professor 1Klea Blackhurst (Miss Lemon) and Hunter are “in the moment”!

EARLIER THAT DAY AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE…

Nutty Professor 29And it begins with one question…

Nutty Professor 25Lewis: “Nashville happens to be a hotbed of theater. What I mean by that is you’re going to an audience that’s accustomed to going and they have seen it all. …The very sound of Nashville is theatrical, and it’s a good place to be.”

Nutty Professor 31Lewis: “(For) the spine of the show we’ve taken the spine of the film to present that on the stage live. …This is not just a show. To all of us it’s the life of a human being, and we are allowing him to show us what he wants to do for the world.”

Nutty Professor 24Rupert Holmes, Book and Lyrics (Tony winner for The Mystery of Edwin Drood): “I think musically there are some moments that are vintage Marvin Hamlisch, and that’s good news for everyone who’s going to hear this. There are some ballads in here that remind you of absolutely classic Marvin Hamlisch; they’re really beautiful. A lot of the music is charmed music, it’s character music, and in that regard I would say that is within what you would think of as a traditional Broadway show. We have a couple of rock elements, because this was the Sixties and The Ventures were at the top of the charts – this is just pre-Beatles. And of course, on the other side of it, with Buddy Love beautifully voiced by Michael, you have that swing band sound, and I think Mel Torme is a good analogy. …So, it’s traditional Broadway with a lot of character work and some contemporary – meaning 1962 – tinges.”

Nutty Professor 32Roderick: “I work for Jerry Lewis, that’s my role and my great honor. …And he called me his First AD (assistant director), which is a film term, and I love it, because it’s very different than in the theater. As a First AD, you get to do stuff. He may say, ‘I want this done, and I want that done.’ It may not be the central creative focus, but it’s stuff that has to get done so that the project happens. It’s been awesome. He’s just said, ‘Go and do that First AD thing.’ So I think of myself as the First AD.”

Nutty Professor 26Nashville Production Producer Mac Pirkle: “There’s a lot of visceral excitement about something like this coming together. As I said down in rehearsal one day, ‘None of this has actually happened before. There is no blueprint.’ In a new musical, literally every day is a little bit different because you have yesterday to reflect on and tomorrow to look forward to. It’s a process of constant adjustment on everything we’re doing.”

Nutty Professor 28Hunter: “…I went back and revisited the movie, which I hadn’t seen since I was a little girl. What I said to Jerry…was that the movie was so theatrical…and so vibrant, literally and figuratively. And I felt this could make a great musical. I was then handed about five pieces of music by Marvin and Rupert. …What I loved about this music and lyrics…was that it was sexy. …When I create movement, I take the decade and the style of the piece we’re in, but I never try to literally live there. I want the period to influence my movement but I’m still going for something that’s a little more well-rounded or now, today.”

Nutty Professor 33Andrew: “I can’t compare him to either one (Julius Kelp or Buddy Love) because he’s an original. It’s truly Jerry Lewis, the one and only. We really approach those characters as separate entities from ourselves because that’s really the only way you can approach them. …This experience for me, as you can imagine, over the past seven years has exceeded my dream that I had when I was a little boy of playing these characters. And I’ve had several moments including the last five minutes or so (of this press conference) that have felt like an out-of-body experience. To say ‘Pinch me’ is an understatement.”

Nutty Professor 34McGowan: “Stella is a very progressive young woman for 1962, and it’s an absolute joy to play such a well-rounded character. Along the lines of what Rupert was saying, because of the musical we get to know Stella better, what she dreams of, what she wants, and it’s just thrilling for me to create this character. She’s very ambitious, and she sees things in a very different way I think than a lot of young women in 1962 did. She’s…forging ahead, and she wants an education. She’s driven, and she loves academics, and it’s just interesting to develop the relationship between her and Julius, and then her and Buddy Love. She’s falling in love with this guy who has a cool exterior, but it’s not that she falls in love with, it’s the inside. It’s such a beautiful message also, and a fantastic character. I feel very blessed to create this and discover how good she is.”

Nutty Professor 27Recent Belmont University grad and Kimberly/Dot/ensemble member Meghan Glogower: “This is an absolute dream of mine. …I never thought I might come this close to it this soon. You think you have to move to New York and slave away for years and years and not get any work, but the fact that I can almost reach out and touch that dream now is incredible. It’s surreal.”

Franklin, Tenn., native and swing Allison Little: “It’s been a childhood dream of mine to be on Broadway, and even before that to perform at TPAC. I was very lucky to come through here with the national tour of Cats a few years ago and perform at TPAC. To be here again with a brand new show and original cast…is literally a dream come true, and I hope and pray it will be received well, with open arms, and that we’ll be on that Broadway stage soon.”

A PEEK AT THE SET…

Nutty Professor 36The scenic design of Tony winner David Gallo (The Drowsy Chaperone)

Nutty Professor 35TPAC President and CEO Kathleen O’ Brien: “It’s like pinching yourself. This is all the months of work, of planning and discussions about how we’re going to make this happen, what will it take to make this happen, and is it going to happen? And the answer is yes, it’s happening. It’s magical.”

AND SO IT’S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE UNTIL THE 24TH…

Nutty Professor 23It was nice to meet you! Now come see the show!

Nutty Professor 22Just one more!

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).

Comments

  1. Gloria Smith says:

    Great overview of the upcoming production of The Nutty Professor Musical! I am so excited about going to Nashville to see the hard work and the team making this Musical possible!

  2. Excellent!

  3. I will be on my way to see this Wonderful, Magical, Musical Nutty Professor in Nashville. It will be a hit. Looking forward to meeting all the cast members, and I sure hope to see Jerry, Marvin, Rupert. So many great minds have put this together. Michael, you are one awesome character.

  4. Joe DiCesare says:

    I saw the show three times and loved it. Michael and Marissa are great.

  5. Helene Tillotson says:

    I never thought I would ever hear the name Jerry Lewis mentioned in the same context with the phrase great review, but thanks to Michael Andrew’s brilliant performance and an awsome cast there will be many great reviews to come. In 1963 I waited on line to see the movie and now almost 50 years later i am thrilled that I was able to attend the first show ever of this awsome show.