Andrea Martin Chats About Returning to Pippin, Creating Characters in Act One and Revealing Her "Lady Parts"

Diva Talk   Andrea Martin Chats About Returning to Pippin, Creating Characters in Act One and Revealing Her "Lady Parts"
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin

Andrea Martin
In the 40 or so years that this writer has been lucky enough to attend Broadway productions, Andrea Martin — the gifted comedic actress recently seen in James Lapine's theatrical adaptation of Moss Hart's biographical Act One — has provided two of the most truly memorable performances. The first was on a snowy night in 1992, and Martin was co-starring in the musical version of My Favorite Year at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, where I laughed uncontrollably (and perhaps a bit too audibly) at Martin's double takes as she slid down an office chair in the Ron Lagomarsino-directed production. The second performance, also a Tony-winning one, was more recent, her high-flying stint as the feisty, advice-giving grandmother Berthe in the current, Tony-winning revival of Pippin. Her delivery of Stephen Schwartz's "No Time at All," which culminates in a surprising, joyful and ultimately moving turn on the trapeze, drew the audience to its feet that night and all the performances that followed. For those who missed Martin's initial run in the hit production at the Music Box Theatre, the two-time Tony winner has returned to the company for a limited engagement through Sept. 21 (she will also be part of the musical's national tour in Los Angeles, beginning Oct. 21). I recently had the pleasure of catching up with this multitalented artist, who spoke about her recent work in Act One, her return to the Diane Paulus-directed Pippin and the forthcoming release of her book "Andrea Martin's Lady Parts," which is due Sept. 23; that interview follows.

Question: Before we get to Pippin, I wanted to talk about Act One a little bit. I loved the play, and I was wondering what it was like being a part of that production and working on that mammoth set…
Andrea Martin: It was such a different experience than I've ever had because I have never originated a role [in a non-musical production] on Broadway.…. So that was both freeing and terrifying to create something from scratch. But, ultimately, it was so gratifying to put my stamp on something and be working with James [Lapine]. It's so creative because he was adapting this iconic autobiography, and being reverential to the book, but also wanting to bring his actors to life with what they could bring to it. So, it was a very exciting time, and I felt like I really grew as an actress, actually, to be given those three different parts to play.

Martin in <i>Act One</i>
Martin in Act One Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: That was going to be my next question. What was it like portraying three different characters, sometimes switching back and forth?
Andrea Martin: Well, you know, because I had done so much sketch comedy in my life, switching characters is easy for me. What was difficult was to make them real. They weren't caricatures. They were real people, but I actually loved it. They were very different parts, two of them particularly. I had never played anybody elegant before, and Bea Kaufman was that. I had never played a British woman before. All of these people were real at one time, so I could do a lot of research on them, and it was a very rich experience, a very, very rich experience.

Question: I thought the aunt was sort of the heart of the show, her relationship with the younger Moss Hart.
Andrea Martin: I love you saying that, I know we certainly have opinions. Dear God, there is no shortage of opinions these days! [Laughs.] Especially if you do like I do and go on those crazy chat rooms. I felt very close to that young Moss Hart, and I felt very close to Santino [Fontana]…and I understood that kind of eccentricity. I don't know, at a certain point I had to really give up on what people [were chatting about] – everybody had an opinion, it was a brand-new play. It taught me to really, really just do the work, that it was out of my control what people were going to think. Unlike comedies, really blatant comedies, you know, it's hard to judge because you're not judging by laughs. I really had to dig deeper in the parts, and it was a great learning experience and a great growing experience as an actress.

Martin in <i>Act One</i>
Martin in Act One Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: I was there for the second performance that was filmed. What was that like having that added pressure of knowing you're being filmed?
Andrea Martin: It was so interesting – Tony [Shalhoub], of course, had done nine years on "Monk" and was so comfortable in front of the camera, and he was able to, very quickly, gage the level, and I thought he was enormously successful at it. It was a little adjustment for me; I'm glad you were there the second time. The first time I thought, "Oh, dear! Was that too big? Should I be doing it to the audience? Should I be doing it to the camera?" [Laughs.] You know, it threw me a little bit, but thank God we had done the show for three months, so we were very in the characters, and the cameras weren't obtrusive at all. But the second performance – my sons were there, they flew in from Los Angeles — it was a very special performance, so I think you saw a good one!

Question: Now getting to Pippin. How did the idea of you returning to the role come about?
Andrea Martin: Barry Weissler asked me, and he asked me so trepidatiously. He wrote me an email, "I know you're not going to like this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway." I think he must have been astounded when I said, "Yeah! Let's go for it!" [Laughs.] You know, gosh, I thought, "Why not?" There's nothing that motivates a person to get into shape more than hanging from their toes and singing 12 feet above the ground. [Laughs.] After doing Act One in heavy coats and period costumes, where I could literally be any weight I wanted to be, I thought this would be a fabulous motivator to get back into shape. But also, really, Pippin was the most joyous time I've ever had in a show. It was just pure joy, and I wanted to experience it again. Even though I'd done the show for nine months, I was not on Broadway very long, and I felt like I still had more in me to give. It was for a limited time, and I'm excited about it, actually, because I get to work with Orion [Griffiths], who's going to be my partner, my trapeze partner. I'm smiling even as I talk about it. It was a very joyful time, so I hope it will continue to be.

Question: What's the rehearsal process like for stepping back into a part you've already done? How long do you have to work with the cast or your new partner?
Andrea Martin: I've never, ever stepped back into a part, so this is a brand-new thing. But it's not like I did it for three years, and I’m stepping back into it so. I'm still excited to perform it, and I worked with Orion twice a couple of weeks ago. Gypsy [Snider], our circus choreographer, I really wanted her to be here when I worked with a new person, and, of course, I know and love Orion because we started out in Cambridge together, but I wanted to make sure that they were going to be the same moves, and his body type is different. I didn't know if I was going to be able to, frankly, wrap my legs around him. I've had worse things asked of me. [Laughs.] So, you know, I wanted to make sure she was here, so I flew in while she was here, and I worked with Orion for a couple of days, and then I literally went away to the Golden Door, which is this fabulous spa, yoga retreat, spiritual retreat, and I worked with the same trainer who helped me originally two years ago. So now I feel strong. I was there for two weeks, and I'm raring to go. So we start tomorrow. We rehearse for five days and then I go into it on Tuesday.

Question: When I saw Pippin, you stopped the show. What is it like as an actor getting that response every night?
Andrea Martin: It's humbling, it's surreal. You have to be disciplined to still stay in character and not break the moment, but I guess it's very humbling, really. I never could quite believe it when it happened, and I didn't quite expect it either. Now I imagine it won't be like that  — people know the show, and they know what to expect. When you first saw Pippin, you didn't know what you were going to get. I don't have those expectations; I just hope that it feels as magical to me. I guess more than that, the magic that I felt doing it, the joy that I felt, that I can still make alive for the audience. That’s what I hope, that I can still capture that.

Andrea Martin in <i>Pippin</i>
Andrea Martin in Pippin Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Having played the part for nine months or so, and now going back into it, how would you describe Berthe?
Andrea Martin: Oh, I’d describe her as determined and feisty, opinionated, loving, a heart that soars and sings and indefatigable, I think.

Question: Having come off of doing Act One and now coming back into doing a musical, what is the experience like of getting to sing on stage as opposed to doing a straight play?
Andrea Martin: Well, dear God, there is something very nice about not having to sing! [Laughs.] When I’m in a straight play and I forget a line, if I do forget a line, I can kind of work my way around it by improvising, but wow is it hard to do it if there’s an orchestra and counting 4/4 — it’s really tricky! A musical, of course, has its plusses, which is it’s so alive and nice and so joyful. There’s a camaraderie amongst a musical, with musical comedy people. That’s a little different with straight actors. I don’t know if it’s just more electric because you can put so much energy into it, especially in Pippin, where you have to rely on each other just for the shear safety of it — you have to be so present. So, that part of a musical is exciting, but a play, I don’t want to say it’s easier, it just uses a different muscle. So, I’m grateful to have had both experiences in one year, really.

Question: You’re also going to do the Los Angeles portion of the tour…
Andrea Martin: Yes, I am, I’m doing it in Los Angeles for three weeks. How could I not do it in LA for three weeks? My sons are there, that’s where they were brought up — I’m just so excited about all of their friends coming. So I really wanted a chance to get to do it in Los Angeles, and I’m so happy I get to do it there for three weeks.

Question: Have you done theatre out there before?
Andrea Martin: Yes, I have. Years ago, I did, before I met Nathan Lane, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, at the Mark Taper Forum with John Glover and Roxanne Hart. But, I haven’t done any theatre there for — gosh, my kids were little — like 20 years.

Question: And I hear you have a new book coming out…
Andrea Martin: Oh! "Andrea Martin’s Lady Parts”! You better promote that thing, God damn it! [Laughs.] It comes out September 23. I think everybody will like it, she says attentively and frightened to death! Writing a book is a whole different thing than going out nightly and hearing people’s laughter. I’m not going to hear anybody; they’re just going to be in the privacy of their own room, so you know my mind is going to go haywire with what people are thinking. But, yes, it took me three years, and there’s a section about Pippin. It’s not a memoir, it’s autobiographical essays, so there’s a little bit of everything for everybody, but I’m really proud of it. I’m really proud that I wrote a book.

Martin autographs her Broadway Wall of Fame portrait
Martin autographs her Broadway Wall of Fame portrait Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: What’s your process like? Do you set aside a time each day or just when something comes to you?
Andrea Martin: When something came to me. As I said, it wasn’t a memoir, it wasn’t like I had to start in 1947 and recall stuff, so things would hit me. There’s a story about a relationship I had with a much younger guy, a story about how I fly to Atlanta to get my haircut, there’s a story about chimps and tutus and variety shows… There’s stories about my kids when they were little, there’s stories about aging, there’s something about my mom, something about squirrels. You know, there’s a little bit of everything. What is astonishing to me, really, is I wrote these when the inspiration hit me, and the fact that it’s all come together in a cohesive book is pretty miraculous. When you read this book, you get to know me, honestly, there’s very little filter. It’s pretty truthful. Just like talking to me right now, it feels very much like my own voice and a very truthful account of who I am. And, in fact, I had to write the book very much like I perform. I would write it and then I would stand up in my living room and say it out loud, and that’s how I wrote the book. That’s why it took me so long. I had to imagine performing it. Just the solitude of writing without imagining responses is very foreign to me. So I had to stand up, say it out loud and then sit down and rewrite and then say it out loud. I think it’s a pretty honest account of who I am.

Question: Since you did write it that way, have you thought about turning it into a stage project at some point?
Andrea Martin: If I can sell two books, maybe I will! [Laughs.] Let’s see how the sales are. Let’s see if there’s a demand for me. I don’t think so. But I think that’s a really good question. I certainly have read a couple of the stories. One of the stories is called “Perky Tits,” which Steve Martin thought I should name the book, and it’s a story about having a dinner at his house, and everybody pooled their ideas of what the title should be, and his was “Perky Tits.” And if you read it, you’ll know why. I’ve read that story, I’ve read the young man story, and actually, I was nervous about it, but because, as I said, it’s so much my voice that it doesn’t really feel like a dry reading; it feels like a performance piece. …So, that I do plan to kind of do. I have a one-person show. I’m going to read a couple of stories when I do it next. I’m doing a book tour, and I’m going to do different book signings, so I’ll read them at those evenings, too.

Question: You were supposed to do the Noises Off revival this season. Is there any discussion about when that might be happening now?
Andrea Martin: I was just with the director in London, Jeremy Herrin. We decided that we go into rehearsals a year from this November. That's when it’s slated, so I guess probably January [2016] is when it will open.

[Visit PippinTheMusical.com.]

* Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.

Today’s Most Popular News: