Steve Martin is a man of many media. In movies, he’s played a jerk and an amigo and the father of a bride. On TV, he’s been a wild and crazy guy. For museum exhibitions, he’s lent pieces from his extensive collection of 20th-century artists, including Edward Hopper and Francis Bacon. To paper he’s committed serious novels (“Shopgirl”) and breezy plays (“Picasso at the Lapin Agile”).
So what’s left? A musical?
Yes, actually. A musical.
“Bright Star,” the bluegrass-inflected show that Martin wrote with Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, will be presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington this holiday season, the center announced Tuesday. It will run Dec. 2 to Jan. 10, its only stop before an anticipated opening on Broadway next spring.
Though this is yet another new avenue for the 69-year-old Martin, it is also, he says, a familiar one. “I grew up on musicals, with ‘The Music Man' and ‘My Fair Lady' and ‘Oklahoma!', Martin said, in a joint phone interview with Brickell. “The songs were so singable. I went to ‘Gypsy’ five or six years ago and I was crying from the opening.”
Brickell, too, said she gravitated naturally to the form: “I grew up in a house where my mother was always singing. When I saw musicals, it made me feel a joy and a connection to song.”
With Martin writing the book, Brickell the lyrics and both of them the music, they assembled “Bright Star,” a tale they said was suggested in part by an event Brickell read about in a newspaper. (They also had collaborated on a CD of bluegrass music, 2013’s “Love Has Come for You.”)
The musical, set in North Carolina in the 1940s just after World War II and flashing back two decades earlier, focuses on a young man who comes home from the war, with dreams of being a writer. It was first produced last fall at the Old Globe theater in San Diego, where Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty found it to be a “quaint” show with a “luscious” score.
“ ‘Bright Star,' proud of its folksiness, wears its old-fashioned heart on its gingham sleeve,” McNulty wrote. That quality of sincerity is what led Broadway producer Joey Parnes to sign on in 2013.
“There’s something that Steve and Edie have captured together that I think is rare for a Broadway musical,” said Parnes, whose current hit, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” won the Tony for best musical last year. “I thought the score was fantastic and the story was very emotional. The Old Globe production confirmed for me that this was a really great musical.”
A celebrity affiliation isn’t a bad leg up, especially for an original musical. But worldwide fame only went so far on Broadway last season for Sting, whose freshman musical “The Last Ship” ended up in drydock after only a few disappointing months. Parnes said the quality of Martin’s and Brickell’s work in other spheres will certainly increase interest, though part of the job of managing expectations will be to explain that “Bright Star” is not a laugh riot. And that neither Martin nor Brickell appear in it.