Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Other Regions

The Nutty Professor
Hale Centre Theatre, Utah
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of The Time Machine

Spencer Jackson Hohl and Cast
Photo courtesy Hale Centre Theatre
For every successful show that makes it on Broadway I have to imagine there are dozens of others that get sidetracked along the way. In the case of the musical adaptation of the hit 1963 comedy film The Nutty Professor, which premiered in Nashville in 2012 directed by the film's star, writer and director, Jerry Lewis, the death of the musical's composer Marvin Hamlisch during the show's run sidelined that production's hope of moving to Broadway. It basically disappeared for a decade until it was produced in 2022 at the Ogunquit Playhouse. With a spirited cast and sharp direction that brings out both the humor and the heart in the story, Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy, Utah, presents the regional premiere of this fresh and fun new musical that I expect will start to see more productions presented around the country.

The film was loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," and the musical adaptation follows the main plot points in Lewis' film screenplay fairly closely, including the same early 1960s time period. Nerdy, bumbling, and accident-prone science professor Julius Kelp gets no respect, not from the students or the faculty at the college where he teaches. When Stella Purdy, the new English teacher, arrives on the scene, and with the dean of the college threatening to terminate Kelp's contract, Kelp tries to improve himself. When everything fails, he resorts to consuming a formula he has concocted that transforms him into the smooth-talking, suave, and entirely self-centered Buddy Love, who is idolized by everyone; the women on campus want to be with Buddy and the men on campus want to be like Buddy.

The stage adaptation is watered down somewhat from the film, with much of the movie's satiric bite scrubbed clean into a family-friendly musical. Kelp is now an introverted but entirely lovable nerd (the giant buck teeth that Lewis wore in the film are gone) and Buddy, while still self-centered, isn't anywhere near as loathsome as he is in the film. While those changes work fine for a cheery musical, fans of the film may miss the movie's sardonic wit and the brazen audacity of Buddy's actions. Fortunately, some of the changes improve on the movie script; in the film Stella was one of Kelp's students, so turning her into a faculty member makes their relationship a little less creepy and also provides the ability to layer in messaging about how the women faculty aren't treated equally to the male professors. There are also a few important pointed lines that depict the bullying Kelp experiences and the film's message, about being true to yourself, is clear and more focused than in the movie.

While the plot is fairly simple and often very predictable, the musical has well-regarded, award-winning professionals at the helm, with Hamlisch's gorgeous score and Rupert Holmes' humorous book and crisp lyrics. Having seen dozens of new musicals over the years, it's refreshing to see one that features a score this professional and a book that isn't padded with unnecessary moments; "While I Still Have the Time" is one of the best ballads I've heard in years and is almost as good as Hamlisch and Ed Kleban's "What I Did for Love" from A Chorus Line, and Holmes' lyrics are as fresh and funny as those he wrote for The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Hamlisch died unexpectedly during the show's Nashville run and comparing the list of songs in this production to those in the Nashville premiere finds a few changes in the song order, so I'm not certain if Holmes has made changes to the book and score in the past decade or not. Regardless, it's a polished, professional script and score and under Dave Tinney's spirted direction, the Hale cast shine and shine brightly.

This production is double cast and I saw the cast that performs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with a few members of the other cast performing the night I attended. Spencer Jackson Hohl does an exceptional job alternating between Julius Kelp and Buddy Love, oftentimes in a split second. Hohl uses a squeaky voice and slack body language as Kelp while completely transforming his voice and demeanor and oozing a cool charisma as Buddy. Hohl's singing voice is bright and he is wonderfully engaging in both roles and fun to watch, especially in the moments when the potion he drinks starts to wear off, and he alternates between his two personas. Bre Welch is strong and engaging as the headstrong Stella. Welch's exceptional voice soars to the rafters and her diction and delivery ensure every lyric is crisp and clear. Hohl and Welch have wonderful chemistry, and you root to see their relationship succeed.

Ali Bennett is bright, joyful, and very funny as Miss Lemon, the secretary to the school's president Harrington Winslow, whom she also has a big crush on. Bennett's comic timing is sharp and her singing voice is bright and strong. As Winslow, Trevor B Dean is fun and flustered and his performance of "Take the Stage," where he fantasizes about the stage career he could have had, is a highlight. BJ Whimpey has fun in a few smaller parts, including the college's main benefactor, and the entire ensemble cast brings plenty of joy and humor to their roles.

Kelly DeHaan's music direction provides warm vocals and lush harmonies from the entire cast who deliver Hamlisch's 1960s style of jazz and pop splendidly. Jenn Taylor's expansive set features a two-story design for Kelp's chemistry lab plus many other set pieces that come up from beneath the stage as well as others that descend from above to quickly move into place so the show never stops flowing from the football field to Kelp's lab and the local nightclub. The prop design by Michelle Jensen fleshes out Kelp's lab with plenty of fun details. Joy Zhu's costumes are lovely 1960s period styles and the lighting and sound design from Jaron Kent Hermansen and Michelle Ohumukini are lush and bright.

With fun characters, an engaging plot, and a score chock-full of winning ballads and charming ensemble numbers, The Nutty Professor is a throwback to stage musicals from years past. While there may be less satire when compared to the film, and the plot is fairly simple, Hamlisch's score and Holmes' lyrics are very good. Hale Centre Theatre deserves praise for bringing this lesser-known musical to their stage with a cast, direction, and creative elements that are engaging, charming, and a whole lot of fun.

The Nutty Professor runs through August 17, 2024, at Hale Centre Theatre, 9900 South Monroe Street, Sandy UT. For tickets and information, please visit or call 801-984-9000

Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Book and Lyrics by Rupert Holmes
Original Story and Concept Jerry Lewis
Based on the Jerry Lewis Motion Picture
Producer: Sally Dietlein
Director: Dave Tinney
Choreographer: Afton Wilson
Music Director: Kelly DeHaan
Production Stage Manager: Susan Kupferer
Scenic Design: Jenn Taylor
Costume Design: Joy Zhu
Lighting Design: Jaron Kent Hermansen
Sound Design: Michelle Ohumukini
Properties Design: Michelle Jensen
Hair and Make-up Design: Krissa Lent
Video/Projection Design: Jaron Kent Hermansen
Automation Design: Nick Herring
Stage Manager: Ashna Horman, Riya Sahasrabudhe
Assistant Stage Manager: Kirsten Busse, Rosalynn Eardley, Ellie Kuoppala

Julius Kelp/Buddy Love: Spencer Jackson Hohl
Stella Purdy: Bre Welch
Miss Lemon: Ali Bennett
Harrington Winslow: Trevor B Dean
Dr. Warfield: BJ Whimpey
Male 1/Norm: Eric Ascione
Male 2/Chad: Evan McKay Naef
Male 3/Chase: Phil Lewis
Male 4/Joseph: Johnathan Tanner
Male 5/Blake: Wyatt Hendricks
Male 6/Jake: Aidan Floyd Kemp
Male 7/Tim: Prince Ko
Male 8/Jim: Samuel Peñate Female 1/Dot: Gabrielle Jane
Female 2/Peg: Ella Bleu Bradford
Female 3/Deb: Anna Tanner Duvall
Female 4/Viv: Abigail Smith
Female 5/Jan: Janessa Peñate
Female 6/Fay: Ally Jo Taylor
Female 7/Kay: Mandy Taylor
Female 8/Liv: Abigail Warner