Nashville has gone absolutely, positively Nutty this week as the company, cast and crew of The Nutty Professor Musical have been welcomed to Tennessee Performing Arts Center's James K. Polk Theatre for the debut of the show's pre-Broadway run (previews start on August 24), which features an amazing creative team-with comedy legend Jerry Lewis directing the musical adaptation of his 1963 film, music by Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy Award-winner Marvin Hamlisch (who also has a Pulitzer Prize to his credit) and a book by three-time Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes (whose The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be revived on Broadway this fall)-and an exceptionally talented cast who will bring the story to life onstage.
So, over the next several weeks Nashville will be filled with a lot of new faces, theater-wise-and in a blatant display of Southern hospitality and to show that my mama raised me right-we're devoting a new column to welcoming the newest members of Music City's theaterati to town…The Nutty Five!
Suffice it to say, we feel even more welcoming after seeing the cast (they were absolutely amazing and were in perfect sync-even in a number they had learned only hours before) in action at TPAC's rehearsal hall where they dazzled the assembled media types with their spirited performance of several of the show's best songs. Since there's no doubt that you'll be bumping into these newfound Music Citizens all over town in the next month, we think you need to get to know them better.
Today's spotlight falls on Ronnie Nelson, who hails from Ammon, North Carolina, and plays Norm in the show. When you go to see The Nutty Professor, keep this is mind: Ronnie's the tall, good-looking guy among an ensemble filled with tall (and not-so-tall), good-looking guys-and he's played Nashville before (as part of the national tour of Cats) and he's got a hankering for some good ol' down-home biscuits and gravy, so I predict you might see him at the Loveless Café or Pancake Pantry while he's in town.
"I couldn't be happier to be doing what I am doing in the city I am doing it in," he proudly proclaims.
Read on, get to know more about Ronnie Nelson-that way, it won't feel quite so awkward when you walk up to him and ask him about that time he fell off the stage while dressed in a unitard…
What was your first taste of "live theater"? My first experience was a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was cast as a random kid in the show, with not too terribly much to do. At this time in my life, at the age of 12 or so, not having much to do was a great thing, considering I was pretty much a baseball-playing farmboy. On the eve of opening night, the young man in the show, who was the lead, had appendicitis. In complete terror, I was brought in in the morning, taught his blocking, and then proceeded to have my first experience in theatre in a role that , under the best circumstances should have been played by someone who had at least seen a piece of theatre. Long story short, it actually turned out really great, and from that day forward I have always been drawn to the excitement and unpredictability of live theatre.
What's your typical pre-show ritual? I don't, unfortunately for you, have any super interesting or quirky pre-show rituals. For me, hanging out with the people you are about to hit the stage with is one of the most satisfying and relaxing things I could possibly do before my show. In this case, we have one of the most fun, laidback casts I have ever come across. I don't need to do one sit up while we're here due to the fact I haven't stopped laughing since the first day of rehearsal. I love these guys and I look forward to possibly having years to get to know them.
What's your most vivid memory of a "show must go on" experience? In Detroit, Michigan, on the national tour of Cats, I accidentally stepped of the stage during the show. I was on for Rum Tum Tugger and at the beginning of the dance break in my first number, I got a touch too much into the joy of dance, and danced my unitard-clad butt right off the stage. Fortunately there was netting in the pit, so I only got caught in a very awkward split position, instead of possibly injuring myself seriously. I proceeded to drag my self clumsily back onstage, where I gave the audience a thumbs-up and finished the number. I am sure if I didn't have two pounds of makeup on, I would surely have been blushing like a three-year-old.
What's your dream role? My dream role would be getting to play a character similar to myself in a sitcom or movie. The idea of making a great living just getting to be yourself sounds like a dream to me!
Have you ever been to Nashville before and, if so, what's your favorite memory of Music City? I was in Nashville about eight or nine years ago with the national touring company of Cats. Stayed in the exact hotel we are in now, and played the larger theater [aka Andrew Jackson Hall] at TPAC. My most vivid memory from here was just the simple fact of how amazing the people were. Everyone was incredibly friendly, and you always felt welcome wherever you went. Being from North Carolina originally, I value the warmth you receive from the locals here, and it always leave me wanting to return for more...Oh yeah, and the biscuits and gravy ain't bad either!