August 5, 2013

Maine actress turns big risk into rewards

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

PippinMusic Box Theatre
click image to enlarge

Portland native Andrea Martin performs during a production of “Pippin” at Broadway’s Music Box Theater, where she plays a robust older woman with secrets to share with her grandson.

Photo by Joan Marcus

click image to enlarge

Andrea Martin, an actress for 40-plus years, has won Tony Awards for her stage work, appeared in films and on television, and done voice work on “The Simpsons.”

Photo by Don Dixon

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Martin insists she wasn't being pushy about her insistence. She just had a clear idea of how she wanted to play the role, which was as a robust older woman with secrets to share with her grandson. In the song, she sings, "I believe if I refuse to grow old, I can stay young 'til I die."

She lives with that attitude in her off-stage life, and wanted to make that point not only to her grandson on stage, but to the audience.

"Now, I've known the fears of 66 years," goes the song. "I've had troubles and tears by the score. But the only thing I'd trade them for is 67 more."

It was she who told Paulus she wanted to take to the high-wire.

"I said, 'If I sign on, I really want to do acrobatics. I've loved the circus all my life, and that's one of the reasons that I want to do it. If your concept is that everyone in the show is a player in the circus, then that's what I think Berthe should be also."'

She trained with a cirque troupe, strengthened her core muscles and upper body, and did all the work necessary to do a traditional trapeze act. Most important, over time she learned to became fearless.

"I said, 'As long as it looks authentic, as long as it looks like I could do it so people who see it could believe I was an acrobat, then I will learn it.' "

It's been among the hardest roles she has ever done, and also one of the most rewarding.

Paulus, who also won a Tony for her direction, calls Martin's performance the epitome of the show. The musical is about living life fully, taking risks and not being afraid of failure. That's Martin, Paulus said.

"Andrea Martin does not live on the sidelines," she said. "She jumps in, takes the dive, and lives fully."


Theater is Martin's first love, and where she returns to most frequently.

She loves the ritual of theater. She loves the schedule. She appreciates the discipline required to do it well.

Mostly, she appreciates the opportunity to seize the moment each night and grow into a role. Movies are a one-shot deal. Television allows some dexterity, especially a continuing series.

But theater is fresh every night.

"Theater is hard work," she said. "I'll tell you what's hard about it -- keeping yourself healthy. This isn't a demanding vocal role, but I've been in shows where I had to sing much more than this. You are constantly worried about losing your voice, so you have to have great physical stamina to do it, and you have to have some skill.

"People feel they can just come step right in. Movie stars or television stars want to feel the cache of doing a theater piece, so they call their agents and say, 'Get me lined up in a play.' And Broadway, which wants to sell tickets, is happy to put a movie star on stage. But oftentimes, they've had no experience and it's a whole different skill set, having to project to the last row of the audience. And by project, I don't mean volume. I mean reaching them.

"That's the big difference between film and theater," she said. "With film, you have to do very little. It's all in your eyes. The camera picks up everything you are thinking. In the theater, your whole body has to reach the last row."

That is certainly true of her role in "Pippin." There is no going through the motions when she's up on the trapeze, suspended by the ankles, reaching the audience at the very back of the balcony and imploring them to join her on the chorus.

It's pure entertainment, at its very best -- fun, exciting, risky and rewarding.

She works hard at it every night.

When she is in New York, Martin lives at 106th and Broadway, and rides her bicycle 60 blocks to and from the theater most nights.

There is no need for a limo for this girl from Portland.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

Twitter: pphkeyes


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Additional Photos

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Roxie, played by 1965 Deering High School graduate Andrea Martin, studies up on group therapy with her TV show husband, Mitchell Laurance, during a 1987 episode of “Roxie” on the CBS Television Network.

CBS Photo


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