April 20, 2019

Funny Woman ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ latest role for Maine native Andrea Martin

You’ve probably seen Andrea Martin play Edith Prickley in the 1970s TV comedy show “Second City TV.” Maybe you’ve seen her portray Aunt Voula in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” And you may have heard her as the voice of Miss Winifred Fowl in the animated film “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.”

But let’s be very clear about where you will not see Martin. She will not star in the touring production of “Fiddler on the Roof” being performed at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono.

If you do want to see Martin, a Maine native, in the hit musical about Jewish life in a small village in Czarist Russia, you can go to the Minskoff Theatre on West 45th Street near Times Square in Manhattan.

In other words, Broadway.

Martin, who grew up in Portland, joined the New York cast in January to play Golde, the lead female role opposite Harvey Fierstein as the milkman and narrator Tevye. Think “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Tradition” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” Then think: the Mama, the Mama! And you’ll have Martin.

At the announcement last November that Martin and Fierstein, both Tony Award winners, were taking over the roles, daily ticket sales went up nearly 40 percent, according to a recent report in the New York Post. At a performance last week, the theater was packed, and the audience showed special affection for Martin, who won long, loud applause for her portrayal of the witty, worried matriarch.

Ninety minutes before the show, Martin arrived at the theater bundled up against the raw chill of the city in winter. In front of the door to her private dressing room, she had draped a long orange scarf in homage to the outdoor sculpture “The Gates” in Central Park. She has a star dressing room, which is ample, awash in ambient light and quiet despite the traffic beyond the window. On a small coffee table are magazines, inspirational books, a tin of chocolates. On the wall next to her mirror hangs the headscarf she wears as Golde.

“Everything I did in Maine prepared me for what I am doing now,” said Martin, who kicked off her boots and folded her legs beneath her on the couch before pulling a pillow close to her chest. At 58, she is limber, fit, glowing.

Many of her fellow actors and fans popularly believe Martin is Canadian because of her association with “SCTV,” but she’s Maine born and bred, with a strong work ethic and an unjaded sense of the world. She was even wearing a thermal shirt from L.L. Bean.

In Portland, Martin’s family ran grocery stores – her brother still runs a restaurant in Waterville – and even though she was expected to work at a young age, her parents supported her interest in theater. She started acting on Maine stages at 9, eventually attended Emerson College in Boston and then made her way to Toronto to work on the Canadian show “SCTV” in the 1970s. It was also broadcast in the United States, and was a hit in both places, launching the careers of John Candy, Rick Moranis and Martin Short, Martin’s brother-in-law.

“Because I grew up in an Armenian community in Portland, I wasn’t so aware of being isolated or remote,” said Martin, who recently sold her home in Los Angeles and moved to New York City. “When you have nothing to compare it to, the world around you is everything. But I think acting was in my blood. It was like breathing for me. There was no time when I was thinking: I want to be an actress. It was more: I am an actress.”

In addition to her acting, however, Martin has received praise for her writing, including two Emmy Awards for “SCTV.” (She has another Emmy for her work on “Sesame Street.”) She also wrote her own one-woman show “Nude Nude Totally Nude,” which played in New York City and Los Angeles in 1996 – propelled by the Tony she won in 1992 for her performance in the short-lived musical “My Favorite Year.” The work in live theater, she said, marked a turning point for her. She began to think of herself more as a dramatic actor than as only a comedian.

To make that transition, she hired L.A. acting coach Larry Moss, who led Hilary Swank and Leonardo DiCaprio to roles in award-winning films. He told her: turn down work, face rejection, work hard. Against the advice of her agent, she returned to general casting calls. She had to, she said.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a star, but I think it’s important to think of yourself as a star, believe in yourself, own the talent you have and have humility about it,” said Martin. “I knew no one was going to believe in me until I believed in myself. I did my one-woman show to be myself onstage instead of someone else. But then I couldn’t get any dramatic roles. I could get broad comedy, sketch comedy or sitcoms.”

But an important role did come along: Aunt Eller in the 2002 Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!”

“It wasn’t glamorous or show stopping, but I knew I had to do it,” said Martin, who won rave reviews in the part.

It also led to an offer to play the Cat in the Hat in the Broadway musical “Seussical,” which Martin eventually turned down to stay at home with her youngest son during his last year of high school. (She was a single parent to her two sons, now in their early 20s.)

When the call came to play Golde in “Fiddler,” the role wasn’t any more glamorous than Aunt Eller, but Martin jumped at the chance to return to Broadway.

“I know I can do the other type of performing – the comedy,” she said. “That’s in my bones. But you can only be a great actress if you have great parts. It was important to me to be great at a great part. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a career of great roles. Plenty of actors make great careers without any great roles. But this is what I needed. I’m grateful. I’m energized. I’m curious every day about how I can make it more alive. I’m enormously appreciative and have great respect for the role.”

And it shows onstage, where her humor and her depth work together to create a character who keeps her husband and five daughters, as well as their village friends, within her maternal reach. Coincidentally, one of her stage daughters marries the character Motel, played by the Tony-nominated John Cariani, a native of Presque Isle.

Martin is scheduled to be in the Broadway “Fiddler” through the beginning of August. In the meantime, she’s considering buying a house in Maine.

“You can’t take Maine out of the person. You just can’t do that,” she said.

Outside of Martin’s dressing room, Harvey Fierstein was arriving for the night’s performance. He hugged a couple of backstage crew members before retreating to his own dressing room to get into costume. What did he have to say about his cast mate Martin: “She’s from Canada, you know.”

For ticket information for “Fiddler on the Roof,” starring Andrea Martin through August, at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City, call (212) 307-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. For information about the touring production of “Fiddler on the Roof” March 12 at the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono, call 581-1755.

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