Without doubt, Nashville has gone positively, absolutely Nutty since the cast, crew and company of The Nutty Professor Musical have come to town to begin the final prep for the debut of the new musical based on Jerry Lewis' acclaimed 1963 film comedy of the same name. With music by Marvin Hamlisch (one of only two people-the other is Richard Rodgers-to win a Tony Award, an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and The Pulitzer Prize) and book and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (the three-time Tony Award-winner's epic musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be revived on Broadway this year), the "king of comedy" himself, Jerry Lewis (the man who brought Julius Kelp and Buddy Love to life on film almost 50 years ago) is helming the project as its hands-on director.
As a result of producers' decision to start their out-of-town tryout in Nashville-we are Music City USA, after all-the local theater community is burgeoning with all manner of fresh faces and winning personalities as the talented people of The Nutty Professor company make our fair city their home for at least six weeks. And what better way to introduce them than through our Nutty Five? Our questions are designed to let you get to know them, which will hopefully make those awkward moments when you meet them face-to-face less embarrassing.
Think of it as a newfangled take on our venerated Southern hospitality-my mama raised me right, for goodness' sake-and what's more Southern than welcoming newcomers into our community? Whiskey and barbecue, of course, but until then this column will have to suffice, even if the ensemble's Patrick O'Neill has suffered through some 20 years of barbecue deficiency. Until we can rectify that situation, this is just gonna have to do…
Patrick assures us he plans to get plenty of barbecue while he's in town, but first he'll have to find the time. "I'm the dance captain and the assistant choreography to JoAnn Hunter, who is the greatest choreographer and employer a guy could ask for," he explains. (And Joann's first professional gig was-guess where?-at Music City's late and lamented Opryland USA, further proof that there's always a Nashville connection).
Here's some insider information: We had the opportunity to see Patrick and his amazingly talented castmates working on a few musical numbers during a media look-in earlier this week and Hunter's choreography for the piece is-how shall we put this?-eye-popping. And great fun! It also looks to be a challenge, so Patrick and his pals have their work cut out for them.
"I'm thrilled to be Nashville," Patrick assures us. "It's always nice to get out of NYC for the summer, but the welcome we have had here has been particularly warm."
So read on, get to know more about Patrick O'Neill and if you happen to see him standing on a chair, chances are he's just trying to get a better look at something…just don't tell him the barbecue's better in Memphis…
What was your first "live onstage" taste of theater? I was about four years old and my parents took me to see Cats at the Shubert Theatre in Boston. We sat in the last row of the orchestra and I stood on my seat the entire time. I. Was. Hooked. I've had the pleasure to work with some of the dancers I saw that day. Life in the theatre is just a series of full-circle moments!
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? A nice stroll around town with George, my Jack Russell terrier.
What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? I was on tour with Chicago. The show started like any other: That haunting trumpet solo, mesh, smoky air, lycra. Yet as the overture came to that iconic climax and the lights and the cast all threw attention to that well known elevator entrance....there was no Velma...And no Velma...And no Velma. In reality it was probably only 10 seconds before our top rate crew got her up there, but there were a lot of Fosse dancers with the church giggles through that performance of "All That Jazz."
What's your dream role? I've never really thought of my career as having a series of roles. Is that odd? I've always had people I've wanted to work with. As long as I can keep ticking down that bucket list of directors and choreographers I'll be very happy. (Do you hear that Joe Mantello and Matthew Warchus?)
Have you ever been to Nashville before? And if so, what's your most vivid memory? If not, what do you wanna see and do while you're here? This is my first time in Nashville! Growing up in New England I was deprived barbecue for the 20 years of my life. I fully intend to Make Up For it over the next six weeks!