As Curtain-time Nears, Marvin Hamlisch Reflects on His NUTTY PROFESSOR Adventure
As time nears for the curtain to rise, figuratively speaking, on The Nutty Professor Musical tonight 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.