Comedy Superstar Jerry Lewis, once known as Jerome Levitch, was born on March 16, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey. Both of his parents were entertainers, so it’s not surprising he made his show business debut at the age of five, singing "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" at New York's "Borscht Belt" nightclubs in the Catskill Mountains. In 1946, Lewis met Dean Martin, and shortly the two paired up in a comedy act. Martin would try to sing, and Lewis would keep interrupting him. Their act was so funny, that in a short time the pair went from earning $25 a week to $5000 a week. And the rest, as they say, was history!
Years later, in 1963, Lewis made history again when he produced, directed, and co-wrote (with Bill Richmond) an odd sci-fi movie idea into one of Hollywood’s biggest and long-remembered smashes.The bespeckled and cross-eyed “Nutty Professor” was also played by Lewis himself.
Now, it’s 2012 and Nashville’s going nutty! Because Music City is getting a visit from The Nutty Professor himself. The original 1963 Paramount Pictures comedy was named in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Laughs” list of top 100 comedies of the 20th Century. Now, a group of Broadway veterans are taking the story from the big screen to the big stage, premiering on July 31st in Nashville, TN.
In case you never heard of it, “The Nutty Professor” tells the tale of a goofy, buck-toothed, socially awkward university professor who spends his spare time experimenting in his classroom, not always meeting with success. After inventing a serum that makes him more attractive to women (yet entirely arrogant), he loses the glasses, gets the girl, and wows the crowd at local hangout the Purple Pit with his sudden Sinatra-esque crooning as Buddy Love, also played by Lewis. The film was remade in 1996, starring Eddie Murphy as obese university professor Sherman Klump who takes an experimental serum and transforms into a physically fit Buddy Love. Murphy takes the multi-character role assignment to another level by portraying a total of seven characters in the film, most of which are Kelps family members.
Like a cat with at least 3 lives, the story has had the chance to be born yet again, this time realized in the new realm of musical theatre. The show brings together an incredibly impressive group of talents and It’s being directed by none other than Lewis himself. At a recent press conference, Lewis told Dish he decided to premiere the musical in Nashville because, “Nashville happens to be a hot bed of theatre. What I mean by that is, you’re going to an audience who is accustomed to going. And they have seen it all. The very sound of Nashville is theatrical and it’s a good place to be.” The musical hopes to make its Broadway debut next year.
The star of the production is Michael Andrew, who from the young age of nine years old felt destined to play the two parts of Julius Kelp and Buddy Love, “I thought I was gonna be a magician. When I saw that movie, and I saw one man portray two characters, it just seemed impossible that that was the same person. And it was the greatest magic trick I’d ever seen and I knew from that time on that I wanted to be an actor.” He also admits that he would cut off the points of Halloween vampire teeth as a child, pretend he was Julius Kelp “and drive everybody crazy. And I was always trying to put together shows.”
Drawing from his significant acting and singing experience, Andrew pulls of the polar opposites without a problem. Lewis has nothing but praise for him, “You’re gonna hear the name Michael Andrew. It will spread like wildfire because the young man I’m talking about not only has the talent, the tenacity, the emotion, his very being is involved in this production. And it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard of in my life.” But whether he gets the part on Broadway, remains to be seen.
Marissa McGowan co-stars as Kelp’s dream girl, Stella Purdy. In describing her interpretation of the role, she says, “Stella is a very progressive young woman for 1962. It’s an absolute joy to play such a well-rounded character. Because it’s a musical, we get to know Stella a little bit better and what she dreams of and what she wants. It’s just thrilling to me to get to create this character. She’s very ambitious and she sees things in a different way than I think a lot of young women in 1962 did.”
Lewis also felt compelled to gush on the actress, “The fact that she’s got more talent than any 30 women I’ve ever seen in my life has a great deal to do with her being so prominent in the show. The wonderful part about being a director is that you can cut something just by saying, ‘cut it.’ And with that young lady, I’m looking to find more material for her. She walks on that stage and illuminates it before the lights go on. I have that feeling about every single human being that’s in this show. They are the most supportive, most eager, most energetic and most talent-ridden people I have ever come in contact with in my life.”
Incredibly, esteemed composer Marvin Hamlisch, winner of three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe awards, who wrote the music and Rupert Holmes, who has also won numerous Tony’s and other awards for his various works, penned the book and lyrics, are also both in town. Together they wrote 19 songs for the musical. Holmes approached transforming this classic film to the musical stage with enthusiasm, “When you write a musical, you have this incredible opportunity that you’re not allowed really in any other format. You have a chance to allow the audience to hear the inner voice of all your characters. It’s something we get to do in a musical that Jerry didn’t actually have the opportunity to do in a movie. You can’t suddenly have the person turn to you and sort of reveal to you, even though they don’t know you’re there, how they feel.”
I would say that it is within what you think of as a traditional Broadway show. We have a couple of rock elements because this is the ‘60s so The Ventures are at the top of the charts. On the other side, with Buddy Love, beautifully voiced by Michael, you’ve got the coolest cat, swing-band sound. Its Dean Martin, its Frank Sinatra, its Count Basie music.”
So why Nashville, you must be wondering? “Nobody else would take us.” Lewis replied, laughing at his own joke. “You want the truth or… Yes, Nashville happens to be a hot bed of theatre. What I mean by that is, you’re going to an audience who is accustomed to going to see performances. And they have seen it all. Plus the fact is we need that kind of information to make all the tweaks of the show we are working on here, ready to present to a ticket buying public.”
He concludes, “The very sound of Nashville is theatrical and it’s a good place to be. That’s the best answer I can give you. If we lost the theatre, we’d be in Newark.”
“The Nutty Professor” Musical opens Tuesday, July 31st and runs through August 19th at the James K. Polk Theatre in Nashville, TN. Tickets start at $40 and are available at tpac.org, by calling (615) 782-4040, or visiting the TPAC Box Office at 505 Deaderick Street in Nashville. For group tickets, call the TPAC Group Sales Office at (615) 782-4060. For more information, visit http://www.tpac.org/ and http://nuttyprofessormusical.com.