Steve Martin’s entertainment career is unlike any other, posited Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein at the first rehearsal on Tuesday of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, running November 26 through December 21, 2014. “Although he would blanche to hear me say it, he’s truly a great artist. He’s invented himself. There is no other artist like him in America,” Edelstein said.
Martin’s trajectory is certainly unique. He began his career doing magic, playing the banjo, appearing in films and in television shows. He sold, at one point, over one million comedy albums and played Madison Square Garden, an unheard of feat for a standup comic. While continuing a phenomenally successful film career, he reinvented himself as a writer, adapting classic works of literature into popular films (Cyrano de Bergerac became Roxanne; Silas Marner became Leap of Faith), writing novels, essays, and hilarious plays, including last season’s The Underpants. He’s in the process of premiering a new musical with Edie Brickell, Bright Star. “There is a governing intelligence underneath everything he does,” Edelstein said.
Picasso …, Martin’s story of art, romance, and genius among the bohemian denizens of Montmartre, premiered in Chicago in 1994 and has never gone away, Edelstein said. “It is a much beloved play. It breaks all the rules of playwriting and miraculously it works,” Edelstein said. “The play begins with a joke. Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar …”
The physical world of the play – a quirky turn of the century bar – is going to be stunning. Staff and cast huddled around a minutely detailed rendering of that bar, created by Tony Award-winning set designer Michael Yeargan. The cast looked with great, and completely understandable, interest in the costume sketches done by designer Jess Goldstein, another Tony Award-winner.
Edelstein also told the collective that the production would have a “godfather” of sorts – Martin himself. “He won’t be in rehearsal, but he’ll be on 24 hour call to answer any of our questions,” Gordon said, adding that schedule permitting, he might swing by to see how the show is coming along.
With the physical elements of the production in such capable hands, Edelstein is free to explore the inner life of the piece, the inspirations that drove Martin to write the play in the first place. What many people might not know is that Martin is a very serious art collector himself. “Everyone should have something that makes them weak in the knees. What makes Steve Martin weak in the knees is great painting,” Edelstein said. “This is his homage, his celebration of the great art and imagination that bloomed at the beginning of the 20th century.”