September 24, 2008

The New Masterpiece from Brickman and Elice

September 24th, 2008

Turn of the Century

By Charles Alexander, Jersey Boys Blog Correspondent

Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice had a problem. It was a pleasant problem, but a problem nonetheless. Would they be one-hit wonders? After writing a wildly successful, internationally acclaimed, multiple Tony-winning musical based on the timeless music of Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, what could B&E possibly do for an encore — especially when the music of the John Lennon, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, John Denver and Johnny Cash had already bombed on Broadway?

Lesser minds might have been stumped, but not the creators of Jersey Boys. Why not, they decided, use the music and lyrics of dozens of the greatest American songwriters? And as the director, how about recruiting Broadway master Tommy Tune, beloved for musical triumphs ranging from The Will Rogers Follies to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas? If this sounds as irresistible to you as it did to me, then proceed immediately by air, land or sea to Chicago to see the Goodman Theatre’s world premiere production of Turn of the Century, the next blockbuster by Brickman and Elice.

The show is now in previews prior to a September 29 opening. Since I am not a professional theater critic, I’m not breaking any laws by giving you an early review. In a word, Turn of the Century is fabulous. I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but the basic premise is well known to anyone who has read the pre-show publicity. The protagonists are Billy Clark, a journeyman piano player, and Dixie Wilson, a struggling young would-be diva. In a twist of fate no more improbable than Back to the Future, Billy and Dixie “slip through a tear in the fabric of time” and suddenly find themselves in the year 1900. They have in their heads all the greatest songs of the Twentieth Century, but they are now surrounded by people who have not yet heard any of these songs. Billy and Dixie didn’t have to be Einsteins to figure out how they could become the biggest stars of 1900.

Marshall actually had this brilliant concept in his head before he began work on Jersey Boys, and after that bit of a distraction, he and his new partner Rick brought the idea to life with marvelous imagination. They wove together the music of such American legends as Stephen Foster, George and Ira Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, while poking gentle fun at such lesser luminaries as Barry Manilow and Celine Dion. It’s like nothing you’ve seen before, and a delight from start to finish. Some scenes are hilarious, some are moving, and some manage to be both hilarious and moving. Jeff Daniels as Billy has impeccable comic timing and Rachel York as Dixie has a voice that many divas would envy. The entire cast is beautifully costumed and choreographed in a way that makes you thankful that Tommy Tune is back at work. And a wonderful story gets even better when Billy and Dixie run into the young Irving Berlin.

But enough details, especially since Marshall and Rick are still working on the show. I don’t want to accidentally tell you anything that’s going to change. After the performance I saw, which got a standing ovation from a sold-out audience, Marshall and Rick seemed strangely perturbed, as they pondered things that could be better. When I first saw Jersey Boys, I didn’t see how it could be improved, but B&E kept polishing it in La Jolla and during Broadway previews. I’m sure they will do the same with Turn of the Century, though it’s equally hard for me to see how they can add much more shine to this one. I told Marshall and Rick that I thought it was a good omen that I got to see the second-ever performance of Turn of the Century — because the first time I saw Jersey Boys in La Jolla, it was also the second-ever performance. As far as I’m concerned, the stars are still in alignment.


  1. What a fabulous concept from two rather clever writers! Leave it to Marshall and Rick to pair an imaginative story with great music we love and appreciate. That concept worked with the biographical storyline of Jersey Boys and here’s hoping their latest venture is just as successful! I can already picture myself leaving the theatre with a smile on my face humming a familiar tune:)

    Comment by LuluThompson — September 25, 2008 @ 12:10 am

  2. How ironic that they would come up with this after working with the man once billed as “Turner DeSentri” on “Spanish Lace”, Bob Gaudio.

    But both Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, and also Doc from “Back To The Future” have warned about changing too many details of history by messing with the space time continuum!

    That said, haven’t some of you often wondered what it would be like to go back to a certain year and flip on the radio and hear some of your songs, but not all the ones you like from later, and then start singing songs from the future to your friends, to their amazement?

    Comment by Ted Hammond — September 25, 2008 @ 8:32 am

  3. Charles,

    You have eloquently described what is certain to be another great success by these two very talented individuals. Best of luck in this exciting new venture, Marshall and Rick. IE

    Comment by irene eizen — September 25, 2008 @ 8:40 am

  4. Charles, thanks for the advanced word about this show. I have been keeping up with the snippets of news concerning this production, and I’m glad to hear it has finally come to fruition. I really enjoy the music of the composers listed, including Stephen Foster, the first great American songwriter, and that combined with a book by Mr. Marshall and Mr. Elice, puts it over the top for me. I will anxiously await its premiere on Broadway.

    Comment by Len Gersten — September 25, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  5. Nice summary and a great tease, Charles. Really makes me anxious to read and hear more. I can’t even hazard a guess as to what gems are included from the icons you cite above (yeah, Manilow and Dion included). Hopefully, a soundtrack will be out soon.

    I’ve only met Marshall a few times, but have been in Rick’s company many times. He is as witty in person as he is on paper, and so personable and authentic. He’s shared his passions about screenwriting and comedy, and I’m not surprised “Turn of the Century” is so good.

    I know that some people perceive being “too nice” as a weakness, as it that’s a bad thing. If anyone has ever thought that of Rick, I’ll bet he’s surprised the heck out of ‘em with the monumental success of “Jersey Boys”. Charles, thanks for alerting us that lightning is about to strike twice.

    Comment by Howard Tucker — September 25, 2008 @ 10:32 am

  6. Could these brilliant guys possibly be any more prolific or creative?!!! Yes, I mean Marshall, Rick, AND Charles! The show sounds fabulous, and portends to be another hit. Thanks for the incisive birds eye view, Charles. Can’t wait to hear more about it. Congrats to all involved.

    Comment by Pamela — September 25, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  7. Nice write-up, Charles – thanks. I’m hoping it comes out west at some point too. B&E? Hmmm…

    B&E: Jersey Boys (2004)
    B&E: Turn of the Century (2008)
    B&E: The Addams Family (2009)

    Quite a resume.

    Comment by stubbleyou — September 25, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

  8. Thanks, gang, for the nice comments. These comments would be more credible if the commentators weren’t some of my best friends in the world. Regards, Charles

    Comment by Charles Alexander — September 25, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

  9. Charles,
    Many thanks for your enlightening preview of ‘Turn of the Century’, you are such an eloquent writer..Best wishes to Marshall & Rick on your new venture which will surely be a success in Chicago, and fast forward to performances on Broadway! Lulu, you said it best.. with a smile!

    Comment by priscilla — September 27, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  10. Terrific article, Charles (and I’m not one of Charles’ best friends in the world). Your excitement was tangible. I’m betting Brickman and Elice have another hit on their hands. Bravo!

    Comment by Catherine — September 27, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  11. I absolutely loved Turn of the Century. Congratulations, Rick & Marshall. This is sure to be a big success.

    Comment by Krystal — September 28, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

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