Portland Press Herald
NEW YORK -- Andrea Martin has never shied away from difficult work.
In a stage and screen career that dates to 1970, the Portland native has kept herself busy, winning both Tony and Emmy awards for her work on Broadway and in Hollywood, most recently this past June when she picked up her second career Tony for her work in the hit musical "Pippin."
She has taken a one-woman show across North America, impersonated Barbra Streisand, starred in the hit movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," done voice work on "The Simpsons," and portrayed Ishka on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."
But in her 40-plus years in show business, Martin had never sung upside down or worked the trapeze until she teamed up with director Diane Paulus for the revival of "Pippin." The show, which Paulus has re-imagined with a circus theme, is a major Broadway hit.
The coming-of-age musical about a boy who would be king combines song and dance with a high-wire circus act, and the 66-year-old Martin has placed herself in the middle of the most exciting action.
The adventurous actress, singer and comedian plays Pippin's loving grandmother, Berthe. The 1965 Deering High School graduate garners the biggest ovation every night at Broadway's Music Box theater for her one song, the uplifting audience sing-along "No Time at All."
She also draws the most gasps.
As she launches into her song, she sheds her matronly robe to reveal a sexy, skintight leotard, then hoists herself onto the trapeze and sings much of the song from high above the stage. At one point, the professional acrobat who accompanies her, the very buff 25-year-old Yannick Thomas, turns her head over heels and holds her by her ankles before passing her down to the safety of actors on stage.
There are no wires, no safety nets, no harnesses.
She sings right through the sequence, never missing a beat. The audience goes nuts. It's such a special moment, the show's producers don't want to ruin the surprise by releasing photos or videos of her performance.
"I'm really not nervous. I don't think about it. I think about being a character," she said during an interview at the Times Square restaurant Sardi's, where caricatures of the world's best-known stars adorn the walls.
In a sign of her illustrious career, Martin is about to get her own caricature at Sardi's. It's Broadway's equivalent of Hollywood's Walk of Fame. The illustration is finished; Sardi's is just waiting for the right time to ceremoniously place it on the walls.
"I'm not sure where it's going to go," Martin said, glancing at the wall above her table. "But I'm sure it's going to be nice."
Maine born, Broadway dreams
For as long as she can remember, Martin has wanted to act. Born in Portland, she took acting and dancing classes there, got involved with the Children's Theatre of Maine, and took roles at regional theaters across southern Maine as soon as she was good enough to land them.
Martin credits her upbringing in Maine with sparking her desire to act. She took advantage of the opportunities in Portland and elsewhere. She said she didn't have to dream of being an actress, because she knew that was what she was going to do.
She didn't know how, where or when. She knew only that she would.
"I never had goals of coming to Broadway, because I didn't really know what it was," she said. "But I did know I wanted to act, for sure. I just didn't know what that meant. I knew in the moment I was going to play the fairy godmother, and then I was going to play Nancy Twinkle. But I didn't know what it meant in terms of a career. I didn't know how it could parlay into a career."
Her father was John Martin of Maine restaurant fame, including John Martin's Manor, a longtime Waterville eatery that closed several years ago.
She came from a tight-knit Armenian family, and still vacations with her brother Peter, sister Marcia and their spouses.
Almost every summer, the family books a week or two somewhere in Maine to keep the family bonds strong. Last year, it was Acadia National Park. The year before, they vacationed on Peaks Island.
Martin returns to Portland as often as she can, and professes a love for the city that is genuine and deep. She knows the city's best restaurants, and stays in touch with the community through friends and family.
"I have exquisite memories of growing up in Maine," she said. "You can't take that away from me."
Martin left Maine when she enrolled at Emerson College in Boston. After Emerson, she moved to New York and began her career with the touring company of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
Soon after, she moved to Toronto. She played Robin in a Canadian production of "Godspell" with Gilda Radner and Martin Short in 1972, and shortly after joined the legendary sketch comedy TV show "SCTV."
She's been working steadily ever since -- in theater, on television and on film.
As successful as she has been in the past, Martin's role in "Pippin" may provide her career-defining moment.
The New York Daily News wrote, "In a perfect theatrical storm of actress, song and staging, Martin turns (composer Stephen) Schwartz's gently insistent and joyful song 'No Time at All' into more than a showstopper. It's a season-topper." Bloomberg News called her song the high point of the show, and said she proved herself "as limber and adept as her very young male partner."
Her brother, Peter Martin, who lives in Winslow, came down from Maine to see "Pippin" in June. In Maine, Peter Martin is known as an influential lobbyist, a key player in the Oxford Casino deal. But in the pecking order of life, he is Andrea Martin's younger brother.
He couldn't believe what he saw from his big sister in "Pippin."
"My jaw dropped when I saw Andrea's performance," he said. "I knew bits and pieces of what she was going to do. But she was cautious about talking about it. She didn't want people to have over-expectations about that role.
"I'll admit, I was a little concerned about her safety. I thought it was extremely physical what she was doing, with no formal training. I was very impressed. I was on the edge of my seat as she was doing the performance."
He let out a happy exhale when the song came to an end.
The actress smiled at the story.
The move from sitting on the trapeze bar to being suspended by her ankles while singing is difficult, she admitted.
"And a couple of times I have panicked," she said. "But Yannick is always there. I have never fallen. We trust each other. He is so lovely. He says, 'I feel now we are a team. I used to feel your nervousness, and now I know you are trusting me.' "
In June, Martin's work in "Pippin" won her a second Tony Award, for best featured actress in a musical. She won her first in 1992 for "My Favorite Year."
"Pippin" is selling out every night, and Martin couldn't be happier. "I'm loving every minute of it," she said. "I'm having the time of my life."
Martin lives in New York and has a home in Toronto. Her two sons live in L.A., and she has asked her agent to find work for her on the West Coast.
Even so, she said If the right job comes her way, she's likely gone from "Pippin." That means Mainers who want to see her in it should act quickly. And they also should note that she is on vacation Aug. 18-24. "So tell them not to come down then," she said with a wink.
The Tony may help her land her next gig. It certainly has brought attention. She was delighted to receive her award from another Mainer, 27-year-old actress Anna Kendrick. As they walked off stage together, Martin whispered to Kendrick, "We went to the same high school!"
Mostly, the Tony brings recognition for a job well done.
"The Tony itself didn't give me a sense of satisfaction. Doing this role nightly gives me a sense of satisfaction," she said. "I come out after the show and women will stop me and say, 'You've motivated me' or 'You're inspiring.' That I can touch people, and that people are moved by it, is what means more to me.
"But, of course, the Tony is icing on the cake, and it's delicious to have a Tony Award and have my peers really be respectful of my work. It's beautiful to have, and I'm proud of it. But really, the satisfaction comes from the people I work with and doing the show nightly."
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