Birdie Newman Katz’s arrival on the big stage took a circuitous route that lasted as long as it took for her to raise a family.
She’s been acting and singing all her life, mostly in her own backyard around Augusta and at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. Now and again, she ventures around New England or shows up at sporting events in Boston to sing the National Anthem.
On Saturday, she will lead the cast of the national Broadway tour of “Fiddler on the Roof” into Merrill Auditorium in Portland. Katz plays the role of Yente, the Matchmaker.
After a life in local theater, Katz is enjoying her first taste of the national scene.
“It’s a huge, huge change in my life,” says Katz, who is on the road for 10 months covering 90 cities, 38 states, three Canadian provinces and 34,000 miles, mostly by bus.
When the tour concludes in Milwaukee in June, Katz will have delivered 220 performances. The entourage numbers about 50 people.
“Fortunately, I have a very understanding husband and grown children who celebrate the fact that it’s mother’s turn,” she said. “It’s really quite amazing. Until now, the most impressive theater I have worked is Maine State in Brunswick, which is an incredible theater. I have worked there 13 or 14 years, usually playing small roles. I am honored to work there, but I do not have the chance to play big roles. But on this national tour, people treat us like we are stars.”
Katz, whose husband is Maine state Sen. Roger Katz from Augusta, traveled to Florida at the suggestion of her daughter about a year ago. Her daughter urged her to audition for a role in a local production of “Fiddler.” Katz was cast in the lead, and worked in Florida for three months.
Her confidence brimming over, she went to a New York audition for the first time in her life last winter and ended up with an offer to play Yente on the national tour.
“Fiddler” is one of Katz’s favorite musicals. She performed it the first time at age 18, and has been cast in it six times during her career. In this show, she stars alongside John Preece, a veteran Broadway actor who plays the lead role of Tevye. This is his ninth national tour.
Rehearsals began in August in New York. The cast spent 10 days in technical rehearsals in Chattanooga, Tenn., and opened at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on Oct. 6.
It’s been nonstop since.
“I love to travel, and every day is seeing a new place. If we are in a town or city for more than a day, we try to go and do whatever makes that place memorable. We find what makes that city special and go do what you would do if you were a tourist,” Katz said.
“I am positive about the whole thing. I work and live and play with wonderful people. Every single member of this cast and crew are completely supportive of one another and care about one another. They are the most wonderful group of nurturing people.”
Katz won’t have much time to show her friends around Portland. They are here only for one day, with performances at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.
But she still plans to share a little of Maine with the troupe.
During Christmas break, Katz made six gallons of her lobster-shrimp stew. Her husband is bringing crockpots full of it from Augusta, and she plans to host a Maine meal backstage.
“I feel like the local kid comes home,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of people coming, and I am really excited and very emotional about coming back home to do the show.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
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