Conductor Stephen Kummer Discusses THE NUTTY PROFESSOR's Impact on Theater in Music City

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Long known as Music City USA-WSM announcer David Cobb is believed to have been the first radio personality to refer to Nashville by the moniker, although Queen Victoria in 1874, after a performance by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, reportedly remarked that "these young people must surely come from a musical city"-Nashville knows good music. Audiences and critics alike can attest to the fact that the city of Nashville is filled with exceptional musicians who have the awards and the accolades that prove the city is, perhaps, unequaled in that regard.

So it should come as no surprise that the pre-Broadway tryout of the new musical The Nutty Professor (based on the classic 1963 film comedy co-written and directed by "the king of comedy" Jerry Lewis, who is at the helm of the musical) already has been lauded for the performance of the show's band. Comprised of some of the city's most talented musicians, joined by some other journeyman players, the pit musicians of The Nutty Professor bring the classic Marvin Hamlisch-written score (Rupert Holmes supplies the show's libretto) to life performance after performance.

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While putting a new musical together with an eye toward an eventual Broadway run is a unique experience for Nashville, local musicians have proven themselves adept and adaptable throughout the process. Brought together via the efforts of Barry Green, who is the musician contractor for the production (he's the man responsible for hiring the orchestra members), the orchestra includes Jimmy Bowland, Matt Davich, Robby Shankle and Doug Moffett on woodwinds; Jennifer Kummer on French horn; Jeff Bailey and Steve Patrick on trumpet; Green himself on trombone; Paul Carrol Binkley on guitar; Bobby Brennan on bass; Pat Coil on keyboards; Ron Sorbo on percussion; and Danny Young on drums. Stephen Kummer, who also plays keyboards, is the band's conductor.

Kummer, who is married to the band's talented French horn player Jennifer Kummer, has a lengthy resume of Nashville productions he's either music directed or conducted, leads the band onstage when they are assembled on the bandstand for The Nutty Professor's pep rally production number that closes the show. Clad in sparkly purple vests and green ties (the school colors of fictional Korwin University) designed by Tony Award-winning costumer Ann Hould-Ward, it's a rousing moment when the musicians take the stage. Suffice it to say, Nashville audiences have been vocal and expressive in their reactions since the show's first preview performance on July 24.

Despite his hectic rehearsal schedule and the responsibility of conducting eight performances a week, Stephen Kummer found time to discuss his role in bringing the new musical to life, the production's impact on the Nashville theater and music community and on what the future could possibly hold…

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How did you become involved with The Nutty Professor and how long have you been on-board? Michael Andrew (aka The Nutty Professor) did a short solo preview of the show last fall for the TPAC season ticket holders and media, and I was recommended to accompany him for the event. During that rehearsal process we talked a lot about music and the history of the show, and found that we had a lot of similar musical tastes and interests so I felt like he trusted me with the material and the overall feel of show. Plus, it worked in my favor that Todd Ellison, the show?s music supervisor, was already committed to the Broadway revival of Annie this fall.

Most of the musicians in the pit are from Nashville-were you responsible for that? Not at all. Barry Green, the musician contractor, did all of the hiring and has assembled one of the finest pit bands that Nashville has ever heard. It?s a combination of some of our city?s top session players, symphony musicians and Broadway veterans. This ensemble combined with Larry Hochman?s spectacular orchestrations has made this very exciting.

How has the project differed from other musicals you've worked on? This show has a definite trajectory. It?s being produced on a large scale, in hopes that it makes it to Broadway in the near future. It also has an unusually gifted and acclaimed pedigree.

What do you think about this score? On the very first day of rehearsal in New York we listened to the music around the piano and everyone agreed that Marvin and Rupert had written some real hits. It?s fun because it blends many musical styles of the swinging sixties with other things that we would consider more contemporary.

Conductor Stephen Kummer Discusses THE NUTTY PROFESSOR's Impact on Theater in Music CityWhat's it like working with Marvin Hamlisch, Rupert Holmes and Jerry Lewis? Perhaps the greatest thing about this business is the rare opportunity to meet people that you?ve admired, get to know them and then find that they are as nice and energetic and brilliant as you had hoped. This has been one of those experiences.

Are you likely to continue with the show if it moves along on its journey to Broadway? It?s possibly an exciting future opportunity, but right now we want to produce a great show for Nashville and have as many people as possible come see it.

What's the impact of a potential Broadway musical getting its start in Nashville? There is the possibility of Coal Miner's Daughter getting its start here. What does that all mean for theater artists in Nashville?This is obviously the most important question for the Nashville theater community. Building a show on this scale is a long and slow process with a lot of variables. The Nutty Professor has been in development for several years already just to make it to this phase. From my experience with this particular show, I know that folks from out of town have been very impressed with the local contribution on all levels. Musically speaking (and I know this doesn?t come as a surprise to anyone) we have musicians on par with the best in the country. I think it?s probably going to come down to ticket sales and community involvement. If it?s shown to be economically productive then I believe we?ll see more and more of it. We certainly have the creative talent.

  • Tickets for The Nutty Professor are on sale at www.tpac.org or by calling the TPAC box office at (615) 782-4040. The show runs through August 19.

In the third photograph, Stephen Kummer (center) is pictured with rehearsal pianist Jeff Lisenby and drummer Danny Young during rehearsal at TPAC's James K. Polkl Theatre.

 

 

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


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