A new show set to open on Broadway features the work of two familiar stars playing crucial, yet unseen, roles. Rita Braver has saved us front row center seats:
"Bright star, keep shining for me,
And I will shine for you..."
"Bright Star," opening on Broadway this coming week, is in part about a young man on the brink of discovering his own surprising history.
And, you might say, the people who wrote the musical are bright stars themselves....
Steve Martin -- known for his comedy, film work, and more recently as a bluegrass musician and composer -- and his co-writer, famed singer-songwriter Edie Brickell.
And though she was raised in Texas and he in California, Broadway always beckoned.
"I had a 33 rpm of 'The Music Man' that I just played over and over and over and memorized," said Martin.
"My mom used to sing to us in the car all the time," Brickell said. "She sang show tunes and great melodic songs from the radio. 'Oh, what a beautiful morning...' You know, she was just always singing and trying to cheer us girls up."
But the story of their collaboration is as full of twists and turns as the show itself.
You may remember Martin's first hit song, "King Tut." His real musical talent, however, was on the instrument he started playing as a teenager. "When I heard the banjo, I was completely motivated, I loved it so much," he said.
But it wasn't until about 15 years ago that he really added "musician" to his varied resume.
For her part, Brickell -- considered an icon of the late 1980s indie music scene -- had put her career on the back burner. After her 1992 marriage to Paul Simon, raising their three children became her priority:
"I would never have had kids if I couldn't be with them," she said. "If I couldn't sit and hold my baby all day long, I wouldn't have done it. I needed to be with them."
But she also became a fan of her old friend Steve Martin's music. And five years ago, with her children growing up, she ran into him at a party.
"So I said, if you'd ever like to write a song together, I'd sure love it," Brickell said.
And thus, a new partnership was born. They started writing together; Martin composed the "tunes," as he calls them, and Brickell the lyrics. They performed as well, and in 2014 the title song of their first album won the Grammy for Best American Roots Song.
"We are truly stunned, if I can speak for Edie, and I will," Martin said accepting the award.
Soon they were dreaming of writing a Broadway show. "Bright Star," set in North Carolina, is inspired by an old newspaper article Edie found: "It was a story about a baby that had been thrown from a train in a suitcase, and it lived," Martin recalled. "And someone discovered the baby in the suitcase and raised it."
"It just set your mind a-clicking? What happened?" asked Braver.
"I love miracles," Brickell replied, "and I read that story and said, it's such a beautiful miracle and it's so weird that anybody can do such a thing. And it just did -- it sparked my imagination."
And so they created a tale of love lost and found, of lives unexpectedly intersecting.
And they got Tony Award-winning director Walter Bobbie on board. What attracted him to working with two people who'd never done a Broadway show before? "The two people!" Bobbie laughed. "Steve, as I remember this, brought the script over to my doorman that day and I read it instantly."
"And the doorman started to reject it," Martin quipped.
In the midst of all of this, Martin and Brickell managed to release a new album recently, complete with a video shot in, of all places, an elevator.
The fun and quirky take is like much of their work. With Martin, now 70, and Brickell, 50, it does seem that their musical collaboration is a still a bit of a surprise -- even for them.
"It came to you both a little bit later in life -- what do you see from this partnership going forward?" asked Braver.
Martin said, "It has been for me a real miracle in my life, because it bought us -- we were touring, we were creating all these songs, suddenly I went from having written 20 songs to have written 60 songs. I never look back at my work, but I will actually listen to our songs!"
"It's remarkable. Steve is like a big gift in my life," Brickell said.
Now, of course, their focus is on their show. They know the stakes are high in a medium where everyone is looking for the Next New Thing. But they say that they deliberately created a more traditional musical, like the ones they grew up loving.
So what do they hope audiences will take away from the show? "Me, I hope they have a good time," Martin said. "I hope they laugh and they cry ... and they're moved."
Brickell added: "A really good time to go out and to leave uplifted and feeling good, as opposed to 'Gee, that was intellectually stimulating, but I feel terrible!'"
To hear Carmen Cusack perform "Sun's Gonna Shine" from "Bright Star," click on the video player below.
For more info:
- "Bright Star" at the Cort Theatre, New York City | Purchase tickets
- Follow @SteveMartinToGo on Twitter
- Follow @ediebrickell on Twitter