Producers of Nutty Professor Hope to Earn Broadway Tenure for New Marvin Hamlisch-Rupert Holmes Show
By Kenneth Jones
The world-premiere staging of the Broadway-aimed The Nutty Professor — written by Tony Award winners Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes, and directed by Jerry Lewis — plays its final performance Aug. 19 in Nashville, TN. Hamlisch died suddenly during the run, but the producers remain passionate about a Broadway life for the musical comedy.
"There are independent producers, Broadway theatre owners, people who are involved with tours, people who are parts of networks of performing arts centers all over the country coming to see this show," Mac Pirkle, a Nashville producer who partnered to produce the premiere staging, told Playbill.com on Aug. 16. "Our mission all along was to get this show up here in Nashville, so that we can prove to ourselves and explore that we want to go to Broadway with it. I think the fact that we've got people coming to see it — the people we wanted to come see it — really is a testimony to the success of trying to get this developmental production on."
He continued, "The sad part of it, with Marvin dying last week, it's redoubled everybody's dedication to the show. Marvin absolutely loved this show. And, Terre, his wife talked about how, in his last days, he talked about the show. He just loved it. Now we kind of carry the banner of Marvin, and his last score, with us. It's a source of pride and rededication for all of us to achieve the mission, which is to try to get the show to Broadway and on to the rest of the world."
Based on the 1963 film comedy written by, starring and directed by Jerry Lewis, the musical comedy is about a nerdy egghead named Julius Kelp (played by Michael Andrew) who concocts a potion that transforms him into a smooth, womanizing crooner named Buddy Love. Hamlisch (A Chorus Line, They're Playing Our Song) wrote the music, Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains) penned book and lyrics.
The Nutty Professor is produced by Ned McLeod (executive producer) and Nashville producer Pirkle of Southern Stage Productions, who founded Tennessee Repertory Theatre. Performances began July 24 leading to a July 31 opening at the James K. Polk Theater in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
The old saying in the theatre is that musicals aren't written, they're rewritten. The Aug. 6 death of Hamlisch, a master composer whose muscular melodies are in evidence in the early-1960s-style score, prompts a show-tune fan to ask: Are major music rewrites planned for the show, and will an additional composer be necessary to complete the score?
Pirkle said such a question is premature, but he understands the community's passion and interest in Hamlisch's final produced stage score. "Rupert and Marvin had songs that they wrote for the show that Ned's not even heard and I've not heard, so we've got songs that were written for the show that weren't used," Pirkle said. "At this point, we feel really confident about the material that we've got in the show and the material that already surrounds the show that hasn't been used — hasn't been heard — whether it's a melody, it's on paper, it's on a tape recorder, whatever. And, Rupert feels really strongly that we've got great material to work with from here going forward as well. So in that regard, we feel great about it."
Pirkle said that Nashville audiences have been embracing both the wild comedy and boisterous up-tempo songs as well as the touching moments. "The show really does have a beautiful character like that," he said. "You kind of guffaw out loud and then you kind of go, silently, 'Awwww!' You get a little tear in the corner of your eye. It really takes audiences on a beautiful journey."
Is it possible that there are multiple trajectories for the show? Could it play a national tour or more regional engagements prior to Broadway?
"Our goal is to get it to Broadway, but we don't rule out anything," Pirkle said. "I think we're in a listening mode right now…"
Mark Jacoby (a Tony nominee for Hal Prince's Show Boat and a veteran of Broadway's Sweeney Todd, Elf, Ragtime, The Phantom of the Opera and more) plays multiple parts. Marissa McGowan (Broadway's Bonnie & Clyde and the recent A Little Night Music and Les Misérables revivals) plays love interest Stella.
In the new show, as in the film that starred Lewis, "Professor Julius Kelp is a dull geek with a bright idea," according to production notes. "Privately experimenting in his laboratory to find the cure for his social failures, he creates a potion that transforms him into a smooth talking, party animal named Buddy Love. Buddy is everything that Julius always dreamed of being and gets the girl that he always dreamed of dating, Stella. The only problem is that the potion doesn't last very long. Will the school find out his secret and will Stella stick around even after Love has left the building?"
In addition to actor-singer-bandleader Andrew, the company includes Klea Blackhurst (Miss Lemon); Alex David (Kelp Double); Meghan Glogower (Ensemble); Blair Goldberg (Ensemble and Understudy Stella); Autumn Guzzardi (Ensemble); Show Boat Tony nominee Jacoby (Dead Warfield, Murray, Maury, The Bartender); Sarah Marie Jenkins (Ensemble); Allison Little (Swing); Charles MacEachern (Ensemble); McGowan (Stella); Lindsay Moore (Ensemble); Ronnie Nelson (Ensemble/Norm); Patrick O'Neill (Dance Captain/Ensemble); Dominique Plaisant (Ensemble and Understudy Miss Lemon); Jamie Ross (Harrington Winslow); Carly Blake Sebouhian (Ensemble); Jason Sparks (Swing); Christopher Spaulding (Ensemble); Kristopher Thompson-Bolden (Ensemble); Kyle Vaughn (Ensemble); Ryan Worsing (Ensemble/Chad and Understudy Buddy/Julius).
The creative team also includes musical director Todd Ellison (Broadway's recent La Cage aux Folles), choreographer Joann M. Hunter (Broadway's recent On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), scenic designer David Gallo (The Drowsy Chaperone), costume designer Ann Hould-Ward (Beauty and the Beast), orchestrator Larry Hochman (Tony Award for The Book of Mormon) and dance arranger David Dabbon (Audra McDonald at Carnegie Hall).
Michael Andrew was once the headline singer and bandleader at the world famous Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in New York City, where he also hosted a live radio broadcast, "Live From The Rainbow Room." He was the bandleader and singer at Merv Griffin's Coconut Club in The Beverly Hilton in California. He is the author of a musical comedy called Mickey Swingerhead & The Earthgirls and leader of the bands Swingerhead and The Atomic Big Band. His bio indicates that he sings "in the style and tradition of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, and Sammy Davis, Jr." He has been a featured guest artist with symphony orchestras around the U.S.
The original "Nutty Professor" screenplay is by Jerry Lewis and Bill Richmond. Lewis also directed the film.
Lyricist-librettist Holmes won his Drood Tonys in the categories of Best Score and Best Book, and was Tony-nommed for Best Book and (with John Kander & Fred Ebb) Best Score for Curtains. Drood will have its first Broadway revival this fall, by Roundabout Theatre Company.
Composer Hamlisch, whose Broadway scores also include They're Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success, has won three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe Awards. His A Chorus Line (with lyrics by Ed Kleban and book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante) received the Pulitzer Prize. He is the composer of more than 40 motion picture scores.
Lewis, who appeared as Mr. Applegate in the Broadway revival and tour of Damn Yankees, said in an earlier statement, "The film that I made in 1963 was so good that I decided to do a Broadway show. And there's no better place to go to find out what you've got than Nashville. This musical will be spectacular for a couple of reasons. One, I'm directing it. Two, I have Michael Andrew, who is one of the best talents to come down the pike in 50 years. And I'm surrounding him with one of a kind creative people, like Marvin Hamlisch, Rupert Holmes, and me…After it's over, give me a call and let me know if everything I said was spot on."
"Music is truly an international language and it has the ability to bring people together like nothing else... except comedy," added Hamlisch. "It's a thrill to be working with Jerry Lewis, a true king of comedy, and bringing this classic story to life on Broadway with music."
"Jerry Lewis has been my hero from boyhood, not only as one of the most gifted entertainers of all time but also as one of the grand masters of movie-making," said Holmes. "To work with Jerry and the vivid cast of characters he created is a privilege and thrill beyond measure."
For more information, visit nuttyprofessormusical.com.
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