The Nutty Professor

Professor Julius Kelp is a dull geek with a bright idea. Privately experimenting in his laboratory to find the cure for his social failures, he creates a potion that transforms him into a smooth talking, party animal named Buddy Love.

Buddy is everything that Julius always dreamed of being and gets the girl that he always dreamed of dating, Stella. The only problem is that the potion doesn’t last very long. Will the school find out his secret and will Stella stick around even after Love has left the building?

The Nutty Professor – a new musical
Tennessee Performing Arts Center

I have a confession. I really wasn’t excited about seeing The Nutty Professor, the new musical based on the 1963 Jerry Lewis film, when it debuted at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center on its way to Broadway. I saw the original film when I was a kid (yes, I am that old) and I enjoyed it. Lewis was in his prime, and I laughed at his goofy antics, protruding upper teeth and superb comedic timing. But I was a kid, what did I know? Visions of the abysmal 1996 Eddie Murphy rip-off danced in my head, and quite frankly, the Olympics on TV in my PJ’s sounded like a more enjoyable way to spend my evening. But, hey, I’m an entertainment reviewer. It’s what I do. So I went.

I’m glad I did. 

The Nutty Professor was an absolute delight, from start to finish, top to bottom and everywhere in-between. What was good about it? Well, just about everything: music, performances, dance numbers, set design, costume, etc., ad naseum.

Another confession; I didn’t do my research before showing up. If I had, I might have been more enthusiastic from the get-go. Music by the incomparable Marvin Hamlisch (Chicago, The Goodbye Girl, The Sting), book and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains), and directed by Jerry Lewis himself? Are you kidding me?

But as with any theatrical event, it is the actors on the stage who make or break a show, and the actors in The Nutty Professor were stellar. Michael Andrew in the iconic dual roles of Julius Kelp and Buddy Love channeled Lewis’s original performance to a T, and Marissa McGowan was simply adorable as the spunky Stella Purdy. But that’s to be expected. They’re the leads. The real question was whether the supporting case could keep up. Short answer: Yes! Every other actor on the stage was 100 percent engaged with their characters 100 percent of the time, and it shone through from the orchestra pit up to the 6th row of the grand tier where I was sitting.

I have to throw out special kudos to choreographer, JoAnn M. Hunter. The dancing, which really took center stage during the 2nd act, was fun, flirty, and even sexy without being smutty. She included smart nods to the popular dance moves of the late 50’s and early 60’s without aping Fosse, Rainer or other popular choreographers of the day.

Bottom line: I loved this show. One slightly bawdy section of one dance routine keeps The Nutty Professor from being a completely family-friendly show, but for anyone 13 and up who enjoys an evening at the theatre, this one is a keeper. See it!

The Nutty Professor runs July 31-August 19, 2012 in the Polk Theatre at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center