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'Tis the Seasons

September 30, 2010 By:
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Marshall Brickman

Walk like a mensch?

Marshall Brickman has the steps down pat.

Brazilian-born Brickman and poker-playing buddy Rick Elice are the Jewish boys/book writers behind "Jersey Boys," the Garden State of mind musical which has minted a quartet of Tonys -- and a guy named Frankie -- in its terrific telling of the Four Seasons story (vivacious in ways Vivaldi couldn't imagine).

'Tis the Seasons: The long-awaited tour of the Broadway smash about the '60s rock group that has rolled its way into new millennium mindsets arrives in Philadelphia for an extended stay, beginning Sept. 30 at the Forrest Theatre.

This is no rag-doll tale; Brickman's success has been a sweeping one, long before he delivered his Broadway debut when the show's producers made him an author he couldn't refuse.

A multiple Oscar-winner for his erstwhile effervescent efforts at collaborating with Woody Allen ("I learned an enormous amount from Woody; I went to school under him"), the 69-year-old former physics major has found chemistry in movies and stage. (He and Elice have elicited a long run for "The Addams Family," still running on Broadway.)

The man who helped put the la-de-dah in "Annie Hall" has a corridor of awards, shiny testaments to his mettle, which has its mellow roots in music. Maybe "only father" timing stood in his way from becoming a Mama and a Papa; Brickman belonged to the New Journeymen with Michelle Phillips and John Phillips, before the odd couple journeyed on to fame as the Mamas & the Papas.

H-e-r-e-s Marshall! Mirth replaced music as his muse, as Brickman moved on to comedy writing, eventually earning top spot as head writer for Johnny Carson's late-night show and then on to Brickman buddy Dick Cavett's TV talker, where he did Emmy Award-winning work as head waiter and co-producer.

That produced a winning segue into Hollywood, where Brickman would team up with Woody before soloing script-deals.

Could he have scripted a better story than that of the peaks and Valli of the Four Seasons, with their true-grit mob of musical mayhem beginnings?

"The real show," says Brickman, "is the backstage story."

It takes us back to the beginnings of a rock group whose rise was almost too good to be true, as Valli and company rode the ramps to musical Valhalla -- and the Rock Hall of Fame.

Don't mean to sound a sour note, reveals Brickman, but he never was into their sound as a kid. He was more classical than classic rock.

Of course, that hasn't stopped him from rocking Broadway with this still-SRO synthesis of great music and mean-streets drama, with its arc of Newark-style news generating Jersey-buoyed storylines with musical overtones of minor mob action as fender-bender "Sopranos."

"A populist show" is how Brickman describes the musical to which he has bragging rights, though he is not the bravura-type.

No rock-typecasting here. Indeed, it was a different big man in town, not Valli, who occupied center stage in the Brickman family, where Marshall's father connected to the concept of communism -- before Stalin stole its thunder for him -- and socialism was a subset of what it meant to be Jewish progressives at the time.

Indeed, fellow traveler Paul Robeson once performed in the Brickmans' living room. If he had a choice now, who would Brickman pick -- Robeson or Valli -- to perform?

He thinks. "Well, one of them is dead," he delivers deadpan of Robeson.

Then, reconsidering, "I think my choice would be Moshie Oysher," he kids of the late legendary cantor/star.

Working his way back to his father, Brickman confirms that he took all of his dad's advice -- and did the exact opposite. "He was a reverse weathervane for me," recalls Brickman.

But weather can be unpredictable and these days, it doesn't rain on his parade of memories as much.

"At my late age, I've come to appreciate what he did," unboxing his emotions only after a recent find, "an old shoe box of letters written by him in the '60s. I read them, and I couldn't recognize the man who wrote them; I never knew he was so intelligent, witty, caring."

Let's hang on to what he found, and maybe incorporate it into his own father image?

"I'm a cool dad," Brickman says of himself, "because of what I do for a living."

Celebrating with a sip of "Sherry"? Big girls, do kvell, Marshall: The writer who started out on "Candid Camera" is candid about his pride of daughters, Jessica, 30, who works in TV and film, and food reporter Sophie, 25: "She's eating up the town."

Nosh on this: Are he and his wife stereotypical Jewish parents?

Parents' Trap
"We do not push them," says Brickman, pushing the envelope of biting humor. "But we will withhold approval."

And he could do that with a banjo on his knee; an accomplished musician, Brickman and Eric Weissberg collaborated on "Dueling Banjos -- From the Original Sound Track Of 'Deliverance,' " delivering yet another string tying Brickman to the music world.

Certainly his career has traveled far, even if he has a short hop between his two shows showing on Broadway these days, from 52nd Street, home of "Jersey Boys," to 46th Street, where "The Addams Family" is holding decayed court.

Lurch forward, and the timeless talent is also finding time for another film project "about two friends from Berkeley in the '60s."

And if that's not radical enough, how about a film focusing on a musician who once studied physics and had hoped to be a doctor, before scripting a successful Hollywood/Broadway scenario for himself?

It's only a suggestion for a man whose life has been writ large.

Who said there ain't no good in our society? Maybe Wisconsin General Hospital lost a good surgeon when Brickman abandoned medicine after working there a semester during college.

No, they didn't lose a doctor in him, but maybe they gained something else.

Like what?

Replies an artist not hurting from lack of talent: "A great patient," he jokes. 

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