Nearly every year an established acting star or two is featured in New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park productions, and this year is no different.
Well, actually it is quite different because one of the major names involved in this year’s production of As You Like It is none other than Steve Martin.
But don’t expect to see Martin on stage speaking in iambic pentameter. Building on his recent success as a bluegrass musician, Martin is composing original music for the production. However, Martin tells the Associated Press that he’s been having trouble working with the Bard of Stratford, quipping, “He’s very difficult to work with.”
The director of As You Like It, Daniel Sullivan, set the production in the rural American South of 1840 and wanted original music for the production. Sullivan and his team must have thought that the banjo-playing Martin would be an ideal choice, or as Martin puts it, “It could have been that I’m the only bluegrass artist they know, frankly.”
On a more serious note (or not), Martin admits that he wasn’t nervous in his new role as a composer. He explains, “I’ve been writing banjo songs my whole life. I wrote a bunch when I was in my 20s. Then I stopped. Then I started writing them again about 10 years ago. So I’m fairly comfortable with it.”
Still, he explains he had to test the unlikely combination of Shakespeare and bluegrass before he agreed to take on the project, saying, “Before I take on stuff like this — something new — I actually do it before I say yes. So I sat down with a couple of tunes and wrote them before I said yes. And I felt really good about them. And that’s how it came about. I called him the next day and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.'”
But don’t expect this to be a regular gig for Martin. When asked if he could envision writing music for a production of Hamlet, Martin replies, “For banjo? I don’t know. I think a comedy is right. I don’t think you can keep doing bluegrass and Shakespeare. I think once is enough.”