Steve Martin and Edie Brickell seem like one of the more unusual performing combinations in popular music. And yet the pairing of banjo-playing funnyman Martin and 1980s-vintage pop star Brickell has produced a surprisingly large and varied body of work, including three albums and a musical, "Bright Star."
"Bright Star" played on Broadway in 2016, racking up five Tony Award nominations, including for Best Musical, Best Original Score (for both Brickell and Martin) and Best Book of a Musical (for Martin.)
Now a traveling production, "Bright Star" makes its North Carolina debut in Raleigh with shows April 17-22. It will open in Charlotte's Blumenthal Performing Arts Center June 26-July 1.
The musical is set in Asheville and jumps back and forth between 1923 and 1945, centered on lots of gothic Southern family secrets.
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We caught up with Martin and Brickell recently by conference-call interview, where the conversation touched on the show's origins and their upcoming projects, including a possible New Bohemians album for Brickell. (The conversation has been edited for clarity.)
N&O: "Bright Star" is billed as inspired by a real event. What was the event?
Brickell: The event is "The Iron Mountain Baby," which was found by a railroad track in a suitcase. The baby was saved by a man chopping wood.
Martin: "The Ballad of the Iron Mountain Baby" was a folk song from 1904, the era of trains. When Edie and I were writing songs together, she discovered this whole thing and wrote a song called "Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby." It was a complete tale, on the album "Love Has Come For You." And when we were casting about for ideas for musicals, we looked into our songs and kind of alighted on that one.
N&O: At this stage of a show like "Bright Star," what is there for you guys to do?
Martin: We've set it free. You know, you can only tweak something so much. If we could, we'd still be tweaking it today. I do think Raleigh is a perfect place for it, since it's set in North Carolina with some real towns — Asheville, Zebulon, a couple others we just made up.
N&O: Have either of you ever been to Zebulon?
Martin: Never. But the great thing about Google Maps is you can sit home and go to Zebulon. In fact, as soon as we get off the phone, I'm gonna do that! But we researched it quite a bit. Called some people, ran a few things by them.
Brickell: I called the sheriff and asked, "How do you pronounce the name of your town?" "ZEB-YA-LON," he said. Oops, I was nowhere close. Glad I checked!
Martin: I'm gonna go on Google Maps and go down the main drag of Zebulon.
N&O: Check out the Carolina Mudcats ballpark there, too.
Martin: I will. I've gotta say, a lot of people call themselves mudcats when they're not. So I want to check and see.
N&O: Do you two have any further records or other projects in the works?
Martin: We don't, really, beyond having written a song or two for the fun of it. But we're kind of on a break, because I'm working with Martin Short now. He's my new Edie.
Brickell: I had a solo album all set to come out. Then I went down to Texas to play a benefit concert with New Bohemians, the band I was with when we were all 18, and we had a creative explosion of new songs. We recorded a record and I swapped out my solo record for it.
Martin: What's the title?
Brickell: I think we've settled on "Rocket." There's a lyric: "Shoot up like a rocket to the life you love," and that's how we feel. It just has so much joy and good energy, I can't wait to get on the road with them again.
Martin: I can't wait to hear it.
What: "Bright Star," presented by Broadway Series South and North Carolina Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. April 17-22; 2 p.m. April 21 and 22
Where: Memorial Auditorium, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Details: 919-996-8700 or dukeenergycenterraleigh.com