Steve Martin and Martin Short are friends more than performing partners. Oh sure, they collaborated on the movies “Three Amigos” and the “Father of the Bride” franchise. But their musical comedy act, which is visiting the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis for two sold-out nights this week, finds them trading insults, songs and jokes in a show billed as “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.”
Even if they aren’t a tour-tested duo, Martin, 71, and Short, 67, clearly showed a rapport, rhythm and routine on Thursday night. Martin & Martin’s two-hour concert was part roast, talk show, family reunion, sketch comedy, stand-up, shtick, Broadway, audience participation, musical parody and bluegrass. Yes, bluegrass. Martin has won Grammys for bluegrass and comedy.
In fact, it was bluegrass that got him back on the road in 2009 after a 30-year hiatus from the stage. In the late 1970s, he became the first comedian to headline arenas. Short, who, like Martin, is a veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” is a Tony-winning Broadway star, perhaps best remembered recently for his 2006 one-man show “Fame Becomes Me” that featured him reprising his characters from “SNL” and SCTV.
Short is a manic song-and-dance man with a very physical performing style while Martin is a mild-mannered, banjo-plucking intellectual with I’m-a-smarty-pants wit. Their friendship of 35 years (they met on the set of “Three Amigos” and have vacationed together for 20 years) enables their disparate energies to work. Martin tones down Short and Short perks up Martin.
The show by this pair of old-schoolers seems surprisingly fresh, with its references to Vladimir Putin, Bill O’Reilly and Mike Pence, an unknown nine months ago. But it’s a largely apolitical performance that kicks off with nostalgic highlight clips from the careers of both — Martin’s “King Tut,” Short’s Ed Grimley and both comics dancing together in “Three Amigos.”
The good friends set the tone for the evening with some good-natured sparring, things like Martin being so pale he’s haunted and Short being, well, short. A run through old photos dating back to childhood makes for a series of spot-on put-downs.
Each star does a solo segment, with Short showing off his theatrical baritone accompanied by pianist Jeff Babko from “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Martin doing fast-fingered bluegrass with his Grammy-winning band, Steep Canyon Rangers. Between songs, the self-deprecating banjo man fires off some of the same one-liners he’s used in his two Twin Cities appearances with the Rangers, but his jokes still zing.
The highlights of the well-paced program suggest the range of the creativity of Martin & Martin. Nothing was more inspired than Short, wearing a kilt, jumping into the arms of a mountain-sized man, also in a kilt, and then scatting and miming a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Nothing was more hilarious than Martin acting as a ventriloquist for Short as Jiminy Glick, a smart-mouthed commentator about famous people.
And nothing was more musical than a train-themed bluegrass instrumental by North Carolina’s Steep Canyon Rangers featuring fabulous fiddler Nicky Sanders. Imagine that — a highlight without either Martin or Short onstage.
Everyone hits the stage for the encore, a typically Martin-esque smarmy/snarky ditty called “Five Minutes To Fill,” which includes Martin’s “King Tut” and wild and crazy guy dances and Short’s Ed Grimley galloping to the delight of the crowd.
The wild and almost crazy ovation at night’s end could have been as much for lifetime achievement as it was for an evening that would be difficult to forget.