BWW Interviews: The Nutty Professor's JASON SPARKS Settles In To Answer THE NUTTY FIVE

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In just over 72 hours, The Nutty Professor Musical opens at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's James K. Polk Theatre , and the anticipation is quickly building to a fevered pitch in Music City USA, which will (for the next few weeks at least) become Musical City USA. Seriously, we're all kind of jazzed about Tennessee's capital city going all Nutty this summer!

For the past couple of weeks, the streets of our city have been filled with all manner of talented theatrical types as the cast/company and crew have been hard at work mounting the spectacular production we've been promised. Directed by Jerry Lewis, who is affectionately known as "the king of comedy"-can 50 million Frenchmen be wrong?-the new musical (with a book by Rupert Holmes and music and lyrics by Marving Hamlisch) boasts a stellar creative team that also includes choreographer JoAnn Hunter (whose work on the show is nothing short of eye-popping), scenic designer David Gallo (who won the Tony Award for The Drowsy Chaperone), costume designer Ann Hould-Ward (who claimed the Tony for Beauty and The Beast), and music director Todd Ellison (who has worked on some of Broadway's most acclaimed musicals during his career). That's some pedigree, y'all.

Shortly after all these excessively good-looking and exceedingly talented folks first arrived in Nashville, we inaugurated our column known as The Nutty Five and we've been all warm and fuzzy, welcoming the company to town by focusing on all the talented people who are bringing the show to life for TPAC audiences. They're each charming, articulate and entertaining in their responses to our questions, but today's "performer in the spotlight," so to speak, may offer up some of the best answers yet…

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In fact, in his answer to our very first query, Jason Sparks (who is a swing in the show's ensemble) actually made me laugh out loud as he painted a picture of a childhood fairly brimming over with adventure and happy memories-not to mention an experience that may have destined him to time spent on an analyst's couch. Actually, though, Jason seems enormously well-adjusted and, it should come as no surprise that everyone seems to love him. One thing you may have noticed, the company seems filled with camaraderie, bon homie and esprit de corps-and any number of other foreign words and phrases-and, if you can believe it, there seems to be a total lack of diva behavior or else they're all just really good at pulling the wool over my eyes. Heck, even before he was introduced to me, I was told Jason Sparks was one of the best dancers and nicest men on the Broadway (but whether that was in NYC or downtown Nashville was never explained).

It's inevitable you are likely to bump into Jason and his cohorts while they're honorary Nashvillians for six weeks (although henceforth we will refer to them as "Nashville's own…" when they become the big stars they deserve to be), so pay close attention and read between the lines. That way, when you elbow past him to gain entry into a tony (not to be confused with "Tony-winning") local eatery, you can at least know who you're buffet-blocking.

And, whatever you do, never admit that barbecue in Nashville pales in comparison to the real thing in Memphis (which is good advice for life, in general). That and the lack of mechanical bulls are sure to upset the applecart of their Nashville expectations. Read on, gentle theaterati, and get to know the ultra-talented Jason Sparks

What was your first "live onstage" taste of theater? My parents tell me we often frequented the theatre when I was I child, so honestly my first "live onstage" taste of theatre, I don't recollect, however the first one I recall was quite memorable. My great aunt took me to see the tour of the play Tallulah, starring Kathleen Turner when I was seven years old. Now, if you know anything about Tallulah Bankhead (or Kathleen Turner, for that matter) you can understand how I entered the theatre a seven year old and left a man. 

What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I don't have so much a pre-show ritual as much as an opening night ritual. Every opening night I re-read a letter my father wrote to me when I moved to New York City reminding me how the little boy in me is so lucky to be living his dream.

BWW Interviews: The Nutty Professor's JASON SPARKS Settles In To Answer THE NUTTY FIVE

What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? I was doing a production of Les Miserables, and it was opening night. My partner and I go on for the wedding scene and she has a big hoop skirt on, which from the moment we get on stage, gets stuck on the iron gate at the party. I tried my darnedest to unhitch it. I ended up climbing under her hoop skirt and getting it unhitched just just as the song was ending, sliding out from underneath her skirt and still hitting my mark for the button of the number!

What's your dream role? I have been slowly making the transition to the other side of the table for a little while now so I actually can't say I have a dream role, just dream people I want to work with. About a year ago, I was Warren Carlyle's assistant choreographer for the first time and that was a huge dream of mine. Now I have the amazing opportunity to learn from JoAnn Hunter on The Nutty Professor. I have a few others that I would love to learn from, but also feel pretty darn lucky as of yet!

Have you ever been to Nashville before? And if so, what's your most vivid memory? If not, what do you wanna see and do while you're here? This is my first time in Nashville and it has been amazing! I call myself a little bit of an amateur foodie and y'all have some great food! I can't wait to try all the plethora of options, and of course barbecue!

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

 

The photo in the middle of the ridiculously flexible Jason Sparks is by his castmate Ronnie Wilson

 

 

 

 

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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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