One of the leading summer theaters in the country is The Ogunquit Playhouse in the town of Ogunquit, Maine. According to the history of the theater, “it was the first, and remains the only, summer theatre from the summer stock era built exclusively as a seasonal theatre.” Opening in 1933, he theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2015, the listing was raised to National Level of Significance “in consideration of the significant contributions made by its founder Walter J. Hartwig and the Playhouse to Performing Arts Education throughout the nation.”
This summer’s productions have already included The Cher Show and will end the season with Beautiful in September – October. In August – September there will be a world premiere musical based on the film Mr. Holland’s Opus. Currently, there is another premiere…sort of. Through August 6, the musical The Nutty Professor, based on the 1963 Jerry Lewis film comedy, is gracing the Playhouse stage. With music by Marvin Hamlisch (his last musical score before his death), book and lyrics by Rupert Holmes, and direction by Jerry Lewis, the show opened ten years ago in its Nashville, TN debut. Talk of Broadway filled the air. However, Mr. Hamlisch unexpectedly passed away just before the first performance. Jerry Lewis died a few years later, which left the show in limbo. In an interview with Tony Award winner Mr. Holmes, he stated it took all this time in order to sort through a number of “issues.”
So, while not the first performances of The Nutty Professor, in a way, it is also a world premiere. Olgunquit is a beautiful vacation spot and not that far from Connecticut. I attended a recent performance of the show and it is worth the trip, along with a little sun and fun on the Maine coast. Here is my review:
The Nutty Professor, a new musical based on the 1963 Jerry Lewis film comedy, playing at The Ogunquit Playhouse through August 6, is having a rebirth. Ten years ago, the show, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, book and lyrics by Rupert Holmes, and direction by Jerry Lewis, opened to very positive reviews in its Nashville debut and was most likely headed to Broadway. However, Mr. Hamlisch unexpectedly passed away just before the first performance. Jerry Lewis died a few years later, which left the show in limbo. In an interview with Tony Award winner Mr. Holmes, he stated it took all this time in order to sort through a number of “issues.”
The reworked production, still eyeing a move to The Great White Way, has a lot to offer. First, is the performance of Dan De Luca, who plays the dual role of Professor Kelp/Buddy Love. The actor is a lovable, ingratiating nerd as the klutzy faculty member and a smooth, urbane lothario as Buddy Love. He brings a confident, Rat Pack swagger to the role. Second, is Klea Blackhurst as the dowdy, fawning Registrar, Ms. Lemon. A holdover from the Nashville production, she just about steals the show. I’ve been told her role has been expanded since its early days, which is a huge plus for audiences. Third, is the scintillating, playful and highly creative choreography by Joann M. Hunter. She plays homage to those crazy dance moves of the 1960’s, while also keeping the big production numbers fresh and updated.
The musical is Jerry Lewis’ zany version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dan De Luca plays Professor Kelp, a socially awkward Chemistry Professor who is unpopular with the school administration and the student body. Enter a new part-time English instructor, Stella Purdy, portrayed by Elena Ricardo, a go-getter who wants to shake things up at the college. Smitten, Professor Kelp perfects a potion, which transforms him, for short intervals, to the suave, self-confident crooner, Buddy Love. Everyone falls under his bewitching spell – the Dean of the Campus, Ms. Lemon, the undergraduates – except Ms. Purdy. By the show’s climatic pre-football pep rally, truths are revealed and, surprise, a happy ending for all parties.
The book by Rupert Holmes is fun, engaging and often quite humorous. Bullying and self-empowerment, such important, hot topic subjects in today’s world, are central plot points to the libretto. Act I lays the groundwork for the shenanigans and hilarity of Act II. I felt the beginning scenes, while entertaining, were more of a set-up for the latter part of the musical and delivered less memorable moments. The interactions with the school’s major donor and his son fall flat and should be rethought or just excised from the script. I know the character of Ms. Lemon is a featured role, but she disappears mid-way through Act I, reappearing a few scenes into Act II. A few more scenes with the actress Klea Blackhurst delivering those delicious comedic barbs and double entendres wouldn’t hurt.
The music by Marvin Hamlisch, his last for the musical theater, and lyrics by Rupert Holmes are tuneful and show a workmanship quality missing in many of today’s musical comedies. The score is powered by heartfelt ballads, stirring anthems, and sparkling comedic numbers. Musical Director Matt Deitchman leads the tightly honed group of musicians. You may not be humming the tunes as you leave the Ogunquit Playhouse, but you won’t depart disappointed.
The other two cast members of note are Elena Ricardo as the unflappable Ms. Purdy. She brings a confident, self-assured quality to the role. Jeff McCarthy, a seasoned theater veteran, makes the most of his portrayal of the obtuse Dean Warfield. He does show his musical comedy chops as with the “Take the Stage” production number.
The ensemble, filled with young, vivacious performers, is a well-synchronized group, especially in The Purple Pit scenes.
Director Marc Bruni keeps the show humming at a fast-paced clip. He gives the performers plenty of room to stretch their comedic muscles. Mr. Bruni generously gives a significant amount of stage time to the dazzling choreography of Ms. Hunter. There are a few times in Act II when Ms. Lemon is just standing around watching as another character sings and dances. Giving her more to do in those situations would strengthen those moments.
Scenic Designers Wilson Chin & Riw Rakkulchon have crafted a number of outstanding set pieces such as Professor Kelp’s beaker-filled laboratory and the student hangout, The Purple Pit. Mara Blumenfeld’s Costume Designs bring out the collegiate spirit of the show and, especially in the Purple Pit scenes, brightly colored garments reminiscent of the free-flowing outfits of the 1960’s.
The Nutty Professor, a cheery, upbeat musical worth a trip to picturesque Maine.
Show dates, 8:00PM, Tuesday through Saturday; 2:00PM on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Ticket information at https://tickets.ogunquitplayhouse.org/2210. Box Office – 207-646-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Masking is encouraged, but optional.