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“There’s an extensive history of banjo jokes, and I vowed never to make banjo jokes because I really respect the banjo,” Martin, a banjo player since his teens, told The Hollywood Reporter of writing the wink into the musical’s book. “It’s quite beautiful, and it’s misunderstood. But somehow, the temptation was too great!”
Directed by Walter Bobbie, the production at the Cort Theatre stars Carmen Cusack and A.J. Shively as two Southerners in the 1940s whose lives are more intertwined than they know. Martin, who made the banjo a regular part of his early comedy gigs and won a Grammy in 2010 for his first bluegrass album, also conceived the story and penned the music with Brickell, after already releasing two albums together.
While Brickell said the key to writing musical-theater-esque bluegrass tunes is to “write with a sense of personality without sounding inauthentic,” Martin said writing a show’s book is much more difficult than crafting a stand-up set.
“Comedy is immediate: It either works immediately or it doesn’t, and you abandon it right away,” he explained. “But a show takes a long time to figure out. You have to juggle a lot of characters, making sure they’re serviced and brought forth. The book is an ongoing process.”
At the curtain call of the opening-night performance — with an audience of Martin Short, Paul Simon, Andrea Martin, Paul Shaffer, Bebe Neuwirth, Diane Sawyer, Howard Stern, Jefferson Mays, Peter Asher and Kenny Leon, among others — Martin strummed a banjo while Brickell and star Cusack sang a few lines from “Sun’s Gonna Shine,” the song that opens the show’s second act.
And at the Southern-themed Gotham Hall afterparty — featuring a barbecue dinner and show-themed cocktails atop gingham tablecloths and wooden furniture — Martin jumped onstage with The All Male Bluegrass Boys to play a tune and share his thanks. “We had a wonderful performance tonight, and we’ve had great reviews — at least in the last 20 minutes! What a night.”
— Ashley Lee (@cashleelee) March 25, 2016
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