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A trip down memory lane for 'Jersey Boys' co-author

Posted by Don Aucoin  January 5, 2011 03:18 PM

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When ''Jersey Boys'' coauthor Rick Elice read in the Globe yesterday that his show had broken a weekly box-office record at the Colonial Theatre, pulling in $1.1 million for the week that ended Sunday, he got very excited _ and not just for the financial reasons you'd expect.

It turns out that the Colonial has occupied a rather substantial place in Elice's heart for decades.

"The Colonial is a theater that, for me, is one of the great places in the world,'' Elice said today in a telephone interview. "It's a beautiful, beautiful theater. I never dreamed that 'Jersey Boys' would play there, so I was very happy to hear that it broke the record.''

In the early 1970s, when he was a stage-struck teenager and Boston was still a significant tryout town for productions on their way to Broadway, Elice used to take the train from New York to catch shows at the Colonial. He remembers seeing Stephen Sondheim's "Follies'' there in 1971, and Sondheim's "A Little Night Music'' a couple of years later.

By 1980, Elice had become an actor, joining Robert Brustein's brand-new American Repertory Theatre. He played Lysander in the ART's inaugural production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream,'' directed by Alvin Epstein, with a cast that included Cherry Jones and Tony Shalhoub.

After its ART run, Elice says, the "Dream'' production moved to the Wilbur Theater, which gave him a chance to walk up to Boylston Street and take frequent peeks at the Colonial. He recalls a production of "Sugar Babies,'' starring Carol Channing, at the Colonial at the time. 

He left the ART in 1981 to embark on a career in advertising, serving as creative director at a New York ad agency until 1999, then spent a decade as a creative consultant at Walt Disney Studios. One of his poker buddies was Marshall Brickman, a renowned comedy writer (Brickman co-wrote "Annie Hall,'' "Sleeper,'' and "Manhattan'' with Woody Allen). Eventually, Elice and Brickman teamed up to write "Jersey Boys.''

Next month, "Peter and the Starcatcher,'' Elice's adaptation of an adventure novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, will open in New  York.

But today, Elice had Boston on his mind. He noted that "Jersey Boys'' also enjoyed a solid run last year at the Shubert Theatre, saying "Boston has been very good to us.'' He added: "Whatever show is in the Colonial is somehow better because it's at the Colonial. The show seems like the icing on a very beautiful cake that's there all the time.''

It's been two decades since he was last inside the Colonial (for a production of the musical adaptation of "Grand Hotel.''). But he plans to rectify that soon. "I'm going to Boston before the end of the month to see my 'Boys,'  ''  said Elice.


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