Review: THE NUTTY PROFESSOR at Ogunquit Playhouse

A world premiere in Ogunquit

By: Jul. 17, 2022
Review: THE NUTTY PROFESSOR at Ogunquit Playhouse

The Nutty Professor at the Ogunquit Playhouse is a newly retooled world premiere musical based on the 1963 Jerry Lewis film of the same title. A comic flick favorite, The Nutty Professor is a story of a Jekyll and Hyde transformation that takes place for a mild mannered and befuddled college professor.

The production is amusing, well-paced and lighthearted fun all thanks to a story and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Curtains) and flashy numbers by Marvin Hamlisch in this, his last musical before his death in 2012. (Known for A Chorus Line, he is one of only two people to win a combination of a Tony, Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, and a Pulitzer Prize award.)

Julius Kelp (Dan De Luca), a college professor, is the ultimate nerd. Socially awkward, clumsily dressed and seeing the world through ill-fitting glasses, he's without friends and bullied by students, especially the captain of the football team. Kelp is also goaded by the college president, Dr. Warfield (Jeff McCarthy), an arrogant dolt dutifully followed by his secretary, Miss Lemon (Klea Blackhurst) who is not so subtly enamored with Warfield.

Soon arriving at the college is Stella Purdy (Elena Ricardo) who is sweet, perky, and seeing the world through rose colored glasses. Her hopes of teaching literature at the college are soon dashed as she's relegated to do lectures for an odd array of unfamiliar courses to give male professors time to pursue academic ventures. After all, this is pre-feminist 1963 and Purdy is low person on the ladder.

When Kelp meets Purdy, there's a bit of romance in the air but little comes of it as his social shortcomings get in his way. Kelp needs a makeover and when a visit to the gym doesn't do much to transform him, he takes matters into his own hand.

Back in his elaborately designed laboratory with rows of beakers and bubbly potions, he develops a formula that transforms him from professorial geek to a smooth-talking, well-dressed persona, known as Buddy Love. He is a heartthrob combining the likes of Bobby Darrin, Fabian, and Tony Curtis. Mission accomplished.

Love becomes a campus wide celebrity idolized by everyone. Unbeknownst to them all, the unkempt Kelp still lives behind the new façade. Purdy is captivated by Love's charm but skeptical by his arrogance and overbearing ego. She struggles with her affections between Love and the more simple and sincere Kelp.

The problem is that the change potion wears off at most unexpected times. While crooning a tune at the local nightclub hangout, his voice starts returning to the nerdy Kelp and his smooth dance moves become uncoordinated attempts at dancing. He must scramble to keep his disguise intact bridging the worlds between Love and Kelp.

The show has a 1960s flair with stylized settings and designs from the period and an ensemble that has "groovy" moves in costumes ranging from simple collegiate to near psychedelic.

De Luca is prime for the role playing the nerdy Kelp every so wonderfully while making the switch to Buddy Love a memorable one. His strong vocals shine especially in the Buddy Love numbers and with occasional toe tapping, De Luca is a joy to watch.

Ricardo is the perfect love interest showing her angst about life decisions and her affections for both Kelp and Love. She's especially engaging in her two self-actualizing numbers "Dance to My Own Drummer" and "While I Still Have Time." The chemistry, no pun intended, is spectacular with De Luca,

McCarthy and Blackhurst are hilarious in their over-the-top characters. They both have breakout numbers displaying their vocal talents. McCarthy portrays his stage career that could have been in "Take the Stage" while Blackhurst delivers a showstopping woman's liberation number with "Step Out of Your Shell," making her own self transformation with renewed confidence; no Kelp formula needed.

The show's ensemble is a mix of athletic looking standouts and center stage beauties. The ensemble tunes and dancing are spectacular.

Matt Deitchman's musical direction does justice to the 1960s style genre with an orchestra that doesn't overpower the vocalists.

The set moves ever so smoothly from the halls of academia to the local bar hangout, and to Kelp's chemistry lab thanks to scenic design by Wilson Chin and Riw Rakkulchon and lighting design by Cory Pattak. The overwhelming task of costuming 1960s casual styles, athletic wear, and out on the town garb is skillfully done by costume designer, Mara Blumenfeld.

I commend the Ogunquit Playhouse and its artistic director, Brad Kenney, for pushing the limits of summer theater in Maine. The summer season now extends until the end of October followed by a Christmas show at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. And while I enjoy the old classics and well-known folio of musical theater, I have come to trust Kenney and his team as they explore new works and world premieres. The Nutty Professor is a winner, and I can't wait to see their next world premiere production, Mr. Holland's Opus.

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