Now it's time to unveil the musical-which features music and lyrics by Marvin Hamlisch and a book by Rupert Holmes- for the public and the critics. The production features choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter, set design by David Gallo and costume design by Ann Hould Ward. Such a sterling pedigree clearly presages a visually stunning production: Gallo is a Tony Award winner for his set design for The Drowsy Chaperone and Ward won the Tony for her iconic costumes for Disney's Beauty and The Beast. Hunter, whose first professional job was at Nashville's late and lamented Opryland USA, was most recently represented on Broadway in the recent Harry Connick Jr.-led revival of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.
And with Hamlisch and Holmes on-board, the music and the script are in capable hands. Hamlisch, who won the Pulitzer Prize for A Chorus Line, has a Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar and a Grammy tucked away on shelves in his home, while Holmes is a three-time Tony Award winner (and his The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be revived on Broadway later this year).
Leading man Michael Andrew (who will play Professor Julius Kelp and Buddy Love) has been attached to the project for several years now, and the cast also includes KLea Blackhurst as Miss Lemon; Tony nominee Mark Jacoby as Dr. Warfield ; Marissa McGowan (most recently seen on Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde, A Little Night Music and Les Miserables) as Stella Purdy; and Jamie Ross as Harrington Winslow. Comprising the ensemble will be Alex David, Meghan Glogower (a recent graduate of the Belmont University Musical Theatre program), Blair Goldberg, Autumn Guzzardi (the Atlanta native now makes her home in Nashville), Sarah Marie Jenkins, Allison Little (who grew up in Franklin), Charles MacEachern, Lindsay Moore, Ronnie Nelson, Patrick O'Neill, Dominique Plaisant, Carly Blake Sebouhian, Jason Sparks, Christopher Spaulding, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden, Kyle Vaughn and Ryan Worsing.
With such an amalgam of talents assembled to bring The Nutty Professor to life, why in the world is the company in Music City USA? 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."
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. 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, which runs through August 19, are on sale now at www.tpac.org or by calling the TPAC box office at (615) 782-4040.
Photo Credit: Rick Malkin
Buddy Love in yellow.
Buddy Love and Stella in the crowd.
Miss Lemon getting tickled.
Buddy Love singing at the Purple Pit.
Buddy Love and Stella Purdy in blue.
Buddy Love and Stella Purdy dancing.
Kelp visits the gym.
Kelp visits the tailor.
Professor Julius Kelp in the lab.