August 11, 2006

Brickman & Elice: Broadway’s New Golden ‘Boys’

August 11th, 2006

New York Post’s Michael Riedel notes that theater is a collaborative effort. So it’s little wonder that many of Broadway’s most beloved shows were scripted by teams: Lindsay and Crouse (“The Sound of Music”), Lawrence and Lee (“Auntie Mame”), Goodrich and Hackett (“The Diary of Anne Frank”). To that storied list of partnerships, add a new one: Brickman and Elice.

Marshall Brickman, a veteran screenwriter, and Rick Elice, a veteran advertising executive, wrote the book to the Tony-winning Jersey Boys. The musical’s success (advance ticket sales: $25 million) has made them Broadway’s most sought-after writers.

Riedel said after spending a few minutes with Brickman and Elice, the chemistry between them quickly becomes apparent. One tells a joke, the other tops it. One tries to make a serious point, the other knocks it down.

They work well together, they say, because they have different, though complementary, outlooks on life. Brickman, 64, is dry and sarcastic: “As an artist, I don’t care about money. As an artist, I only care about real estate.” A one-time joke writer for Borscht Belt stand-ups, he co-wrote, with Woody Allen, the screenplays for “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.” Elice, 50, is thoughtful and earnest, though just as quick with a zinger. Brickman says,

“Rick’s the heart, and I’m the spleen. ”

Elice puts it this way:

“Marshall is an adult parent, and I’m an adult child. He’s a breadwinner, a father of two daughters . . . My life has not been shaped by the pressures and privileges of parenthood.”

Elice, whose boyfriend of many years is actor Roger Rees, says that dynamic is played out in Jersey Boys, which charts the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The show, Elice points out, is about a family; in this case, a family of guys bound together – and torn apart – by fame and success.

Because of their funny and thoughtful script, Jersey Boys has a deeper pull on audiences than other so-called “jukebox musicals,” many of which simply shoehorn old pop hits into jerry-built plots.

“The secret of the show, beyond the favorite tunes, is the intelligence of the book,” says Gannett Newspaper drama critic Jacques le Sourd. “I don’t think Marshall and Rick have been properly recognized for that.”

After Elice became a development executive at Disney, he asked Brickman to send him scripts, thinking they’d write a movie. Asked to fashion a show along the lines of the hit Mamma Mia! – only with the songs from the Four Seasons – Elice brought Brickman onboard. When they sat down with Valli and bandmate Bob Gaudio, a much grittier show emerged. Brickman states,

“After two glasses of wine, they started talking about growing up in New Jersey and their ties to the mob. We thought that was something worth writing about.”

With Jersey Boys set to run, well, forever, Brickman and Elice are working on several projects, including a musicalization of the old Spencer Tracy movie “Father of the Bride” (by that old team Goodrich and Hackett).

Says Elice:

“Having weathered the advance [antagonism] of the press for writing a jukebox musical, we have now looked for the second most heinous thing to do -adapt a film.”

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