Because of all his great movie roles, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Steve Martin is something of a Renaissance man. When he’s not starring in movies he’s playing his banjo or writing (including music, novels, plays, screenplays). Martin’s latest project actually combines both: he has been collaborating with singer-songwriter Edie Brickell on a musical comedy, Bright Star, which will open at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego on September 28. Martin spoke about the experience of writing a musical with the Los Angeles Times and what he learned about writing in his nearly fifty-year career.
Martin points out that he is simply following his “on to the next thing” approach he’s used throughout his career. He explains, “My whole career has been, ‘If I can do this, then I might be able to do that.’ If I can write comedy, maybe I can do stand-up. If I can do stand-up, maybe I can act in a movie. If I can act in a movie, maybe I can write a screenplay. If I can write a screenplay, maybe I can write a play. If I wrote a play, and music, then maybe I could write a musical.”
However, Martin never thought of starring in Bright Star as another challenge because of the grueling eight show a week schedule. He says, “I just don’t have the stamina.”
When Martin and Brickell started collaborating on the musical, there was a significant hurdle: despite having ideas for songs, neither had an idea for a story. Martin admits, “We didn’t really have a story, which made it difficult. I would never attempt this again without a clear story in mind first.” Still, when it came to writing it Martin stuck to advice he has always followed as a comedy writer, adding, “In comedy, you literally cannot hang on to anything if it isn’t working, or if it’s only halfway working. Working with Carl Reiner, I learned that when something is your favorite, your favorite scene or your favorite line, and the thing works faster without it, your favorite has got to go. The song on which this entire show is based, we cut that. We didn’t need it anymore.”
As his words indicate, the whole project was a difficult process. But Martin is glad nobody told him so up front, joking, “If they told you ahead of time how hard it would be, you’d never do it. So, it’s good when they don’t.”