“Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis achieved incredible heights,” said Jesse Collins, creator of the new production. Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been, which opened at Upper Canada Playhouse on October 18.
“In their ten years as a team they were number one at the box office, they were TV stars and booked into night clubs everywhere. They were on radio. Sometimes the two of them were performing six different show a day.
And then, after 10 years, just as spontaneously as they came together, they exploded.”
Jesse Collins, who created the new show Dean & Jerry was simply fascinated by the iconic duo.
“Their act developed almost immediately the minute they met. I’ve never found any other acts then, or now, that were really like them, or two other performers who had that powerful combination of comedy and music.
Dean and Jerry were magical.”
Equally fascinating to acclaimed actor/director/playwright Jesse Collins was why that unique relationship all went wrong.
For 20 years following their break up, the men literally did not even speak to each other.
“Martin really didn’t give many interviews or write memoirs,” Collins said. “But Lewis wrote a book years later, well after Frank Sinatra engineered a surprise reunion between them during a Lewis MD Telethon. Lewis called that book Dean and Me: A Love Story.
They had once had this closeness, this rapport, and after the reunion, I think they rekindled a friendship of sorts.
But they never did the act again.”
Collins used the songs he chose for this production as a kind of framework for the story.
“I took snippets of their repertoire when they were together, snippets from when they were apart, and then added a fantasy sequence of what might have been if they had stayed a team.
When Derek and Nick sing the material, audiences will realize how Jerry’s free wheeling fun antics lent a unique and mischievous air to the music. And Dean was not just a singer, he was a comic too.”
To play Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Collins has cast two consummate singer/actors: Derek Marshall and Nick Arnold.
“Derek is a charismatic, wonderful performer, truly one of a kind,” Collins said. “He was in my Lights, Camera, Christmas! and he simply brought so much to the table. He’s fantastic.”
Collins’ theatrical feelers also drew in Nick Arnold, who had just finished a successful US national tour playing Jerry Lewis.
“Nick is hilarious and wonderful,” Collins said. “Derek and I met him, and from the outset the two of them had a phenomenal rapport.
The reality, of course, is that there is no more Dean and Jerry, but there is a Derek and Nick, and what they do brilliantly is evoke Dean and Jerry’s era through their sheer talent.
Understand that they are not impersonating the originals: Derek and Nick are evoking these two great men.”
Upper Canada Playhouse, is, in Jesse Collins’ view, an ideal venue for a show like Dean & Jerry.
“We have a five piece band backing up Derek and Nick and the lovely, intimate space at the Playhouse really suits a show like this.
It might just make audiences feel like they are at the actual Copacabana, sitting around the night club tables, up close and personal with the performers.
Again, the Playhouse venue allows us the means to evoke a past era. I think the audience appeal is incredible in this setting.”
Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been has clearly been a labour of love for Jesse Collins. He has developed a deep personal perspective on the performers.
“Ultimately,” he said thoughtfully, near the end of the interview, “I believe that, in many ways, Dean and Jerry were stronger together than apart. We actually close Act I with the song “What Will You Do Without Me? It was a very prophetic song in the end.
Each of them had to find his stride alone after that.”
Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been is running at Upper Canada Playhouse from October 18-23.