Lorne Michaels knows talent. The Saturday Night Live and Tonight Show producer has made a nearly five-decade career of spotting potential stars, nurturing them and figuring out the best way to deploy their skills. That’s why he was certain that pairing SNL vets Maya Rudolph and Martin Short on NBC’s Tuesday night (10 p.m. ET) variety show Maya & Marty made perfect sense.
“Lorne knew that they both had roots not just in comedy, but also in music, with Maya a fantastic singer with a band of her own [Prince cover band Princess] and Marty’s experience on Broadway and musicals,” said the show’s music director and supervisor Jeff Richmond. “He knew those two would want to have music in the show.”
Which explains why halfway through the summer series’ run, Maya & Marty has already produced a number of classic musical moments — not just living up to the cast’s favorite bits from its variety-show predecessors, but making a few new classics along the way as well. From the first episode’s thundering Maya and Miley Cyrus throwback collaboration to Jack White‘s flashback theme song and the host’s silly/nostalgic duets, Richmond said the series is trying hard to strike a balance between embracing the old-school Carol Burnett-style variety flavor of the past while adding something that feels fresh and new.
The best part is that their musical partners have been pitching in as much as the writers, with guests like Cyrus showing up with nearly complete sketch ideas. “Miley actually came up with the whole ‘I’m Your Man/W-O-M-A-N’ concept,” Rudolph told Billboard in an email about the musical number that opened with Miley tearing into Leonard Cohen‘s “I’m Your Man,” then being joined by Rudolph for Peggy Lee‘s female-empowerment anthem “I’m a Woman.”
“All the way from the arrangement to the look of it to the choreography. She had a very clear vision of what she wanted and she executed that perfectly. I thought it was amazing,” Rudolph said.
Richmond, who works with band leader Charlie Rosen and musical director Eli Brueggemann on the show, agreed that Miley had basically conceptualized her spot from top-to-bottom before she came in, down to what she was going to wear and rehearsing her band. “She had seen a YouTube video of Raquel Welch and Cher doing that song and wanted to find a way to do that,” he said. “So it’s not just that she’s a talent, she’s a creative force of her own.
The show — which has featured cameos from Drake, Ben Stiller, Larry David, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Kevin Hart and John Cena — kicks off with White’s funky wah-wah theme song, which, like Cyrus’ bit, came almost fully formed. “I believe Jack came to us by way of Lorne right before the test show and we were trying to figure out the sound of the opening theme and suddenly there was this email from Jack White,” Richmond said. “It included a rough mixed version of the song, and we all listened and said, ‘What can we do with this?’ He offered it, and we accepted immediately. It was exciting to have this very, very new sound that could have possibly been written a long time ago. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”?
It’s clear from the roster of guests that Rudolph, Short and Michaels have called in a few favors for the show, and Rudolph said one of her favorite bits came courtesy, in part, of friend and big-time supporter Tina Fey. In it, Fey and Rudolph nodded to the random medleys of yesteryear while seated on unnecessarily tall stools during the second episode, a sight gag that Rudolph said was “all” Fey and Richmond.
“I think Tina had thrown the idea out there a long time ago of very tall stools, and it just went from there,” Rudolph said, with Richmond noting that at one point Fey wanted the stools to be 12 feet high. “And she loved the idea of those Sonny and Cher medleys that take a word from one song and start the next line from another. Then Lorne mentioned that he thought it would be nice for us to sing something together so it went from there.”
With the obvious fun and laughs the cast and their guests have been having, Richmond said “more and more people” have been hitting the show’s team up asking if they can get in on the action. Though he was cagey about who might pop up on Tuesday night’s (June 21) show — or the final two episodes — NBC announced on Monday that a group of Broadway all-stars would be making their live debut on the show to perform their updated version of Burt Bacharach/Hal David’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” whose proceeds are earmarked for the LGBT community in Orlando.
The song was recorded by 60 Broadway stars in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting last week, and among those scheduled to appear on Maya & Marty to perform it are: Tituss Burgess (Guys and Dolls), Michael Cerveris (two-time Tony winner, Assassins), Lilla Crawford (Annie), Victor Garber (four-time Tony nominee, Damn Yankees), Ana Gasteyer (Wicked), Renee Elise Goldsberry (Tony winner, Hamilton), Whoopi Goldberg (Tony winner, Thoroughly Modern Millie), Joel Grey (Tony winner, Cabaret), Sean Hayes (Tony nominee, Promises, Promises), Megan Hilty (Tony nominee, Noises Off), Andrea Martin (two-time Tony winner, My Favorite Year), Rosie Perez (Fish in the Dark), Chita Rivera (two-time Tony winner, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Marissa Jaret Winokur (Tony winner, Hairspray) and B.D. Wong (Tony winner, M. Butterfly).