Music City has officially gone "Nutty" with the arrival of the company, cast and crew of the Broadway-bound musical The Nutty Professor has taken up residence at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's James K. Polk Theatre to make final preparations for their first preview on July 24. Led by director Jerry Lewis, upon whose 1963 classic movie comedy the musical is based, the company was introduced to Nashville media during a press conference Wednesday morning.
Showing off his trademark wit while greeting guests in the Polk Theatre lobby, Lewis said the company is in Nashville "because nobody else would take us," eliciting hearty laughter and setting the tone for the remarkably serious, even if a bit free-wheeling, press conference that followed. The Nashville run is the precursor of the show's planned Broadway opening in the early part of 2013.
"Nashville happens to be a hotbed of theater," Lewis explained. "And the theater audience here is accustomed to going to the theater and we need the information they'll give us to make the tweaks that are needed to make the show a hit. Even the sound of Nashville is musical…this is a good place for us to be."
Joining Lewis on the dais for the press conference, which was moderated by producer Mac Pirkle (founder of Southern Stages and Tennessee Repertory Theatre and a 2010 First Night Honoree), were lyricist and book writer Rupert Holmes, leading man Michael Andrew, actress Marissa McGowan, choreographer JoAnn Hunter, assistant director Ray Roderick and executive producer Ned McLeod.
Lewis, the film icon and legendary comic multi-hyphenate (he's an actor, writer, producer, director-essentially the man has done it all), was the focus of most of the questions during the hour-long press conference which shed light on the show's meandering route to the stage and the show's musical and theatrical structure.
"The spine of the film has been taken to put this show onstage," Lewis said, explaining that the stage musical "opens up" the story of timid professor Julius Kelp and his alter ego Buddy Love.
"In 2005, I met Michael Andrew and he told me that at nine years old he had seen the film and it was his lifelong dream to play those two characters," Lewis said. "And I made the mistake of having him come to my house for a meeting."
That meeting-and Andrew's idea-was just the inspiration that has now led to the musicalization of The Nutty Professor, which features the three-time Tony Award winner Holmes' book and lyrics and the music of Marvin Hamlisch, who has won Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy Awards in addition to the Pulitzer Prize.
Andrew's dream, according to Lewis, "shook up my brain…and we've been going forward since then."
"You have to be patient with a project like this," Lewis explained. "You have to look at the project from a different point of view."
The result? "Audiences will know within the first three minutes what this show is all about," according to Lewis.
What you won't see onstage is "an impersonation of Jerry Lewis." From the beginning, Lewis says, that has been a paramount edict as the creative process advanced toward the Nashville production, which will be the public's first opportunity to see the musical.
"He is an original, truly Jerry Lewis, the one and only," said the Wisconsin-born and bred Andrew. "This experience has extended the my dream that I first had as a little boy-and I have to admit that sometimes, even during the first part of this press conference, it's been like an out of body experience for me-to have a man who was my idol become my mentor and then to become my friend has been an amazing journey."
Tickets for The Nutty Professor are on sale now at www.tpac.org or by calling the TPAC box office at (615) 782-4040.