Monday, August 6, 2012

The Nutty Professor: A New Musical

When I first heard that someone was turning The Nutty Professor into a musical, I cringed inwardly. I am not about to lie about that. Truly dating myself, the only version of The Nutty Professor that I had seen was the slap-stick comedy version that came out in 1996 starring Eddie Murphy. And to be honest, I never actually sat down and watched that entire film; only bits and pieces of it.

I discovered quite quickly that there had been an ORIGINAL version of the movie in 1963 starring Jerry Lewis, comic extraordinaire. My interest was raised at this point…. I am well aware at how “re-makes” of movies often bare any resemblance to the original versions, so I wondered what the Lewis version was like. I didn’t take the time to hunt it down and watch it, but I kept my eyes on the Broadway world, waiting to hear more about yet another movie-turned-musical.

Finding out that the out-of-town run was going to be in Nashville was pretty amazing. I may be wrong in this assessment, but I don’t believe that I know of Nashville EVER hosting the out-of-town, pre-Broadway run of a show. That on its own made me want to see the show. Add in the fact that the music was written by Marvin Hamlisch and the show was directed by Jerry Lewis, and I was hooked.

A couple of weeks ago the twitter accounts for both TPAC and The Nutty Professor itself, gave out a “tweet seat” discount code for their previews (in TPAC world, that’s simply a discount for people on twitter & NOT actually encouraging tweeting during the show). The deal was great and it was much easier on my budget than paying full price after the show opened. I snapped up a couple of these tickets and one of my dear friends went with me.

One of the very first things I noticed, when the proverbial curtain came up, was how similar in style (set, lighting, costume) the show seemed to be to several other shows I’ve seen on Broadway in the past few years. Catch Me If You Can, Promises, Promises, and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Obviously, all the shows are from the same era, the 50s & 60s, which I’m sure lead to the similarities in color and tone. The great thing about that was that it gave me a feeling of comfort. Like I knew what I could expect from the rest of the production.

The basic run down of the story, if you’re like me and you’d never seen the movie, is Professor Julius Kelp, teacher at Korwin University and his quirky differences. Professor Kelp walks outside the “norm” and pretty much no one likes him. Enter bright young student Stella Purdy, whose dreams are larger than life, and who wants nothing more than to know everything she can. Miss Purdy likes Professor Kelp’s quirkiness and doesn’t mind being a little different herself, much to the dismay of her fellow students.

While the story was building through the first act, I was feeling a little TOO much like I’d seen the show before. I kept waiting for something new to pop out at me, but it didn’t quite happen the way I wanted it to happen, though there were some stand-out moments still present. Stella, played by the lovely and terrifically talented Marrisa McGowan, sings a beautiful number entitled “While I Still Have the Time” that speaks to her wide-eyed innocence as she enters a world filled with promise.

Another great point of the first act was seeing the transformation of Julius Kelp into Buddy Love. Michael Andrew does and amazing job of creating two totally different characters. So different in mannerisms, walk, stature, and facial expressions that it was very easy to forget that it wasn’t two separate people on that stage. Even more amazing: Michael Andrew created two totally different singing voices. As Julius Kelp, he sings “Stella” after meeting the lovely Miss Purdy. Later in the first act, as Buddy Love, Andrew sings “(Hey Is It Me or) Is it Hot in Here” and it’s like a totally different person is singing as well.

When the second act began, I wasn’t sure what my thoughts were on the show. I’m glad I waited to tweet my judgments because the second act is what pulled the show together and made it shine. The story, at its heart, is about accepting yourself for who you are AND not being afraid to be a little different. Julius Kelp needed to see how a change in his personality could take away all the things people DID like about him. Even Buddy Love himself sings a song called “I’m Trouble.” When others start to get annoyed with the Buddy Love that they….loved (sorry for the pun) so much, Julius Kelp gets the chance to see where he is special in his own way.

One of the things I feel that needs to be highly praised for this show is the choreography. Any of the group numbers had some beautiful choreography (reminding me again of the recent revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying). It was classy, graceful and was very aesthetically pleasing. When an entire company is dancing a number, it can be beautiful, or a complete disaster. I really LOVED watching these group numbers. It was something that made the show, especially the second act very much appealing.

As wonderful as Michael Andrew and Marissa McGowan were as Julius Kelp and Stella Purdy…. For me, the stand out performance of the entire production was that of Klea Blackhurst, as Miss Lemon, secretary and assistant to Korwin University Dean, Dr. Warfield. The character of Miss Lemon could have easily become a cliché or a flat character. But Blackhurst takes this role and turns Miss Lemon into a woman of depth and fun. You relate to her. You understand her unrequited love for Dr. Warfield and you want her to win. You cheer her on, even as she rolls around the bust of Dr. Warfield with her where ever she goes. And I couldn’t help but smile as she has her shining moment with “Step Out of Your Shell” toward the end of the second act.

Overall, I think this show has great potential. It’s “classic” Broadway, and while I would probably tidy it up a bit (I could do without the cheerleaders in the first act), I think this show could make a go at a decent Broadway run. This is the kind of show that a classic theatre lover will appreciate, but still has enough glitz and glitter to appeal to a younger audience that might be experiencing live theatre for the first time.

My suggestion: Go see this one in Nashville while you still can. Then you can say you saw it when. The Nutty Professor: A New Musical plays at Tennessee Performing Arts Center thru August 19th. Search around on the internet and you might even stumble across a discount or two. You can order tickets on TPAC’s website by clicking HERE.

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