Oh what a night…………..Suzanne Baum talks to Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the producers of the hit musical The Jersey Boys
As one of the longest running productions on Broadway and the West End, it is no surprise that The Jersey Boys receives a standing ovation every night. For the writers of the show, however, its success is still something they find hard to believe.
“I have this reoccurring nightmare in which I never accepted the role of working on the show,” explained Marshall Brickman, who together with Rick Elice, produced the show. “Then I wake up and acknowledge the reality that I am a part of it and still can’t believe it!”
The 71 year olds involvement with the musical is one he happened upon by chance. Having built a successful career as a writer and producer-together with his friend Woody Allen he won an Oscar in 1977 for their Annie Hall script- Brickman was introduced through a mutual friend to Rick Elice. As well as becoming close friends and poker buddies, the two were keen to work on a new project together and with Elice’s background in writing scripts for television and theatrical advertising copy, they discovered they had much in common.
“When Rick first approached me about the project I was slightly unsure,” recalled Brickman, who lives in New York. “Somebody had contacted him on behalf of the Four Seasons but I wasn’t really familiar with their work.”
As a one-time folk music artist Brickman decided to research more and was “instantly bowled over” with what he discovered about the band.
“I knew most of the songs from The Kinks and The Beach Boys but it wasn’t until I heard the music from The Four Seasons that I realised I knew their songs, I just didn’t realise it was their work.”
What followed next was a lunch between the two men with Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio-the last two active members of the group and the ones who controlled the band’s rights. It was a drunken meal that Brickman remembers fondly.
“The lives of these guys were so interesting. Over lunch they opened up about their early life, about getting mobbed up, and it was just a wonderful story. It was Shakespearean. It had love, hate, betrayal, jealousy and friendship intertwined. Rick and I told them let us tell your story, warts and all.”
For anyone who is yet to see the show, it tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons; Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi-a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks who became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They wrote their own songs and sold 175 million records worldwide – all before they were thirty. The show features all their hits including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Oh What a Night, Walk like a Man, Can’t Take My Eyes off of You and Working My Way Back To You.
The co-producers point out that the songs make the audience so happy they have the urge to get up and dance in the aisles of the theatre.
“They come and love the upbeat songs and just like me they know the music but had no idea it’s the Four Seasons that sung them,” explained Brickman, who believes the show appeals to all ages.
“There is the older generation who were teenagers in the sixties and remember the band and then there is the younger crowd who recognise the songs.”
As well as the music, Brickman believes that people are able to relate to the many aspects of the band’s story.
“The show gives a thought-provoking look at the corrosive effects of fame, the fallout that comes from getting your priorities wrong, and the ebb and flow of long-term friendship. Loyalty, regret, betrayal and love – we can all relate to these themes in one way or another.”
Since its opening ten years ago the show has been showcased all over the world, attracting more than 19 million visitors. It has won major awards including the 2006 Tony Award and the 2009 Olivier Award for Best Musical.
“The show always gets a standing ovation, it just makes people happy,” added Brickman. “I just feel so lucky having such a hit show. There was no magic formula to the show; it was all about good timing and a lot of luck.”
In total agreement, Elice describes his success like winning the lottery.
“We just got lucky. The Jersey Boys changed everything in my life for the better.”