BWW Nashville: NUTTY PROFESSOR Composer Marvin Hamlisch Dies in Los Angeles
Composer Marvin Hamlisch, whose latest musical theater work is on display in Nashville in the Broadway-bound production of The Nutty Professor, has died in Los Angeles, according to the Associated Press. He was 68 years old, and his death was made public by a family spokesperson. He is survived by his wife, Terre.
Hamlisch, one of only eleven EGOT winners in the history of the entertainment industry, was awarded three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe awards for his work. On Broadway, he wrote the music for A Chorus Line—which received the Pulitzer Prize—as well as They’re Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success.
He is the composer of more than 40 motion picture scores including his Oscar-winning score and song for The Way We Were and his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s music for The Sting, for which he received a third Oscar. His prolific output of scores for films include original compositions and/or musical adaptations for Sophie’s Choice, Ordinary People, The Swimmer, Three Men and a Baby, Ice Castles, Take the Money and Run, Bananas and Save the Tiger.
Hamlisch held the position of principal pops conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and Pops, Seattle Symphony and San Diego Symphony. He was musical director and arranger of Barbra Streisand’s 1994 concert tour of the U.S. and England as well as of the television special, Barbra Streisand: The Concert (for which he won two Emmy Awards).
In late July, I interviewed Marvin Hamlisch ahead of the Nashville opening of The Nutty Professor. When we were originally scheduled to talk—I had been told, “You’re scheduled to talk to him at 4 p.m. Call at 4 p.m. on the dot. Marvin doesn’t believe in this ‘around 4’ stuff.”—he failed to answer the phone. I was told later that he was “very embarrassed” to admit he had neglected to turn on the ringer of his cell phone, causing him to miss my call.
That led to my favorite voicemail of all time: “Jef, this is Marvin Hamlisch—call me when you get this.”
We rescheduled. When I called him at the new, appointed time, Terre Hamlisch answered, telling me he was in a meeting and he would call me back. Half-an-hour later, he did just that, explaining to me that he was about to head home and that I should call him in an hour.
When I called back, he was in the car, heading back home from the meeting. “We’re stuck in traffic,” he told me. “Let’s just do this now. Hold on while I plug this thing in…”
And then we talked about The Nutty Professor and his love of the work of Jerry Lewis, his experience working with Rupert Holmes, and we discussed the creative process that had brought the team to this point.
When I told him that members of the media had been treated to several of his new songs during a media look-in at TPAC, I mentioned that Nutty Professor leading lady Marissa McGowan had sung “While I Still Have the Time,” a classic Hamlisch ballad, for us.
“What did you think?” he asked.
“It was beautiful,” I replied. “It’s the Marvin Hamlisch ballad we all were hoping to hear.”
His response was refreshing and heartfelt: “I’m so glad you liked it,” he said. “That means so much to me that you liked it. That’s really terrific. Thank you.”
Marvin Hamlisch thanked me for complimenting a song he’d written—and he was sincerely grateful.
But I shouldn't have been surprised. In another interview in July, he was quoted as saying, “I’m not one of those people who says, ‘I never read reviews,’ because I don’t believe those people. I think they read ‘em. These songs are my babies. And I always say, it’s like having a baby in a hospital, taking a Polaroid and going up to someone and saying, ‘What do you think?’ And he goes, ‘I give you a 3.’ That’s what criticism is like. You’ve worked on this thing forever—‘I give you a 3.’ And it’s part of you. That’s the bargain you’ve made.”
Here is the story that I wrote from that interview, originally posted on BroadwayWorld.com on the day that The Nutty Professor opened for previews in Nashville:
As time nears for the curtain to rise on The Nutty Professor Musical at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center, anticipation continues to grow. Whether you’re a member of the cast or crew, an excited audience member or even part of the creative team who has shepherded this long-held dream project to the stage, your heart beats faster today.
For no one is that truer than Marvin Hamlisch, the man responsible for the show’s score, who will finally be able to gauge the audience’s reaction—despite all the acclaim that has accompanied his storied career, it’s evident that Hamlisch wants people to like his music, to appreciate his work and to fall in love with the world he is able to create with his melodies and lyrics—in order to perfect his efforts ahead of next week’s official opening night.
To think that Hamlisch’s involvement in The Nutty Professor goes back to the handshake that sealed the deal between him and the show’s creator Jerry Lewis is at once down-to-earth and almost shockingly unbelievable. It could well be the genesis of another musical in and of itself, but make no mistake about it, that’s exactly how the story began…
“A few years ago, I got a call from Jerry Lewis, who asked me to come out to Vegas,” Hamlisch recalls. “When I arrived for our meeting, he told me he wanted me to do the music for The Nutty Professor Musical.”
At first, the association of the two men—one’s known throughout the world as “the king of comedy,” the man who first brought the characters of Professor Julius Kelp and Buddy Love to the stage in 1963; the other is the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer of A Chorus Line, who has a Tony Award, an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy all his own—seems incongruous, but both men are almost resolutely focused on creating art and entertainment for the masses, each responsible for delighting audiences for decades. They are, in fact, consummate showmen.
“Jerry told me about what he wanted to do with the project and on a handshake we made the deal,” Hamlisch explains.
“Music is truly an international language and it has the ability to bring people together like nothing else…except comedy,” he says. “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.”
But the promise of opening night success does not ensure that the course to first night always runs smooth, particularly in the early going of a project that will ultimately cost millions of dollars to produce: “The problem was, at the time, Jerry started sending me parts of the movie script and after that went on for a few weeks or months, I told him and producer Ned McLeod that the way to make the musical was not to take a movie script and add songs, but to write a brand new treatment of the material. I told them we needed to find a book writer who, perhaps, could also write lyrics,” Hamlisch says.
And find one they did: three-time Tony Award-winner Rupert Holmes came on-board and helped to fashion the musical that audiences will see at TPAC through August 19.
“When you write a musical, you have the chance to allow the audience to hear the inner thoughts of the characters,” Holmes suggests. “I was able to ask, ‘What does Julius Kelp feel?’ And perhaps even more fascinatingly, ‘What does Buddy Love think of Buddy Love?’ As a result, we give the audience an opportunity to peer inside these characters.”
The resulting story for The Nutty Professor Musical might surprise audience members: Certainly, it’s wild and wacky, funny and maybe even hilarious, but “there’s a touching human story” to be found amid all the laughter and theatricality.
“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,” Holmes says. “To work with Jerry and the vivid cast of characters he created is a privilege and thrill beyond measure.”
Hamlisch is also a longtime fan of the film version of The Nutty Professor, recalling the film’s immense popularity at the time of its release—the film, in fact, was something of a departure for Lewis: he calls it a “leap of faith” for both him and his studio—and the delight he derived from the movie’s outlandish premise and Lewis’ no-holds-barred performance.
“What I had always loved about the movie—and what I love about this musical—is that it’s a comedy that might just make you cry at the end,” Hamlisch contends. “It has a certain vibrancy now that it might not have had before because it’s about accepting who you are despite the peer pressure you feel to conform. Because of the instances of bullying that we read about every day, The Nutty Professor Musical might resonate more deeply with audiences today.”
“Trying to be yourself, and to be happy with yourself, seemed like a good basis for a musical.”
With the show’s premise basically set by the original film comedy (which was co-written by the wunderkind Lewis with Bill Richmond), the bones of the structure were evident and so, through a series of phone calls, emails, faxes and, finally, face-to-face discussions, lyricist/composer Hamlisch and book writer Holmes began to cobble together the script for what ultimately is a Broadway-bound musical.
“We started very much in order from the beginning,” Hamlisch explains. “We were trying to find out what we needed and what we didn’t. Once you find the real demarcation between Julius Kelp and Buddy Love, you are able to define a lot. But what’s better about the musical is you are able to get a lot of pathos in early and I think that been a good addition to the script.”
As the project moved ahead, Hamlisch says he knew the creative team was on the right trajectory: “As far as writing the songs, that didn’t come hard, so I thought I was doing something right,” he muses.
“What inspires me always is character,” he confides. “And these are all three-dimensional characters, so when I wanted to write funny, I wrote funny. When I wanted to write serious, I could write serious for them—and it worked.”
Among the almost 20 songs Hamlisch wrote for The Nutty Professor is a ballad that will be performed by Broadway veteran—and the show’s leading lady—Marissa McGowan, called “While I Still Have The Time,” in which her character—the love interest of both Julius Kelp and Buddy Love—sings about the dreams she has long held in her heart.
“She sings about realizing the dreams she’s always had even while she’s surrounded by people who are running out of their own dreams,” Hamlisch says.
The song, which McGowan performed for the press during a media look-in two weeks prior to opening at TPAC’s rehearsal hall, is a lovely, hopeful ballad. In short, it’s vintage Hamlisch and is likely to have a life beyond the confines of the show’s plot structure.
Hamlisch admits, though, that the score of The Nutty Professor is “a little bit more funny” than some of his earlier works, “and yet there is the surprise of songs that will really get you in the heart.”
Yet there is something else about The Nutty Professor that Hamlisch thinks will appeal to audiences: “We have not had many shows lately that are not through-composed,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of shows that are completely sung-through, but this one is very much in the vein of the traditional Broadway musical in which the songs propel the action forward and are completely character-driven.”
“I’m very proud of these songs and when you see the show, I think you’ll be taken with them,” he promises.
Opening the show in Music City USA is a good idea, Hamlisch maintains: “I like Nashville very much.”
“This is a very interesting combination of events,” he says. “We’re not doing the normal tryout, but there’s a lot riding on what happens in Nashville. We’re going to have to be successful here. We’re at a very interesting crossroads here, for the people working on the show to ensure that audiences like it. It’s important that the people paying their money at the box office like the show. If they do—or if they don’t—we’ll find out fast, the hard way. We’ll know rather quickly if we have a shot at Broadway.”
- Tickets for The Nutty Professor Musical are on sale now and available at www.tpac.org, by calling (615) 782-4040, or by visiting the TPAC Box Office at 505 Deaderick Street. For group tickets, call the TPAC Group Sales Office at (615) 782-4060. The run continues through August 19.