DIVA TALK: Chatting with Fiddler's Andrea Martin Plus News of Greene, LaMott and Orfeh

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Fiddler's Andrea Martin Plus News of Greene, LaMott and Orfeh
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Andrea Martin in Fiddler on the Roof
Andrea Martin in Fiddler on the Roof Photo by Joan Marcus


If I had to hazard a guess, I would have to say that Andrea Martin has made me laugh more than any other actress alive today. I was a huge fan of "SCTV," the Canadian sketch-comedy television program that was a launching pad for the careers of Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Rick Moranis, Martin Short and the late John Candy. The characters Martin created were among the most hilarious the TV series ever offered: Who could resist her Edith Prickley, Edna Boil, Perini Scleroso, Libby Wolfson, Mrs. Falbo or that lovably dim-witted "Days of the Week" star, Mojo? If I were to pick one favorite moment from the entire run of the late-seventies series, it might be the take-off of the original Broadway Evita commercial that featured Martin as Indira Gandhi in, you guessed it, Indira, "the musical about a prime minister who wanted to be a singer and ended up seducing a nation." When I watched "SCTV" as a kid, I had no idea that Martin had a theatrical background, having appeared in professional productions of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Godspell (the latter also featured Short and another fabulous funny lady, the late Gilda Radner). And, when it was announced that Martin would make her Broadway debut in the 1992 Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical My Favorite Year, I knew I had to be there. I still remember braving a blizzard to make it to the Vivian Beaumont Theater where I had a truly wonderful time watching Martin — in what would be a Tony-winning performance — bring the audience to fits of laughter as "Alice Miller," one of the writers of "Your Show of Shows."

Martin is back on Broadway again this season in a completely different role, playing Golde opposite the Tevye of Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof at the Minskoff Theatre. Martin conquers new territory in her performance, eschewing the slapstick and broad comedy that she has perfected and instead depicting Golde with an undeniable reality that is extremely touching. Her Golde is the force that keeps her family together in these troubled times, and her pride and dignity in her religion, her culture and the five daughters she has raised is palpable. This is not to say that Martin isn't funny — she is — she brings effortless laughs from her work, but her comedy comes from within the character: she never reaches for the easy laugh. The actress-singer is also surprisingly moving, particularly in her rendition of "Sabbath Prayers," and her second-act duet with Fierstein on "Do You Love Me?" is a heartwarming and comical delight. Martin is the ballast of this production of Fiddler, one I found more enjoyable and poignant than ever.

I had the true pleasure of chatting with Martin earlier this week, the same day I was scheduled to catch her performance in Fiddler. My interview with the star of stage and screen follows:

Question: You had an audition this morning. . .
Andrea Martin: I did. It's a new world I'm getting into. It was for a voice-over. When I started out in Canada, I did a lot of voice-overs and commercials, but I didn't really ever have to [audition] — honestly, I auditioned for the first couple and then I was just asked to do them. Then I went to L.A., where I lived for 18 years, and I got into the world of animation. And then I was asked to do those. So this auditioning thing — oh my God, it's a whole other world! . . . I said to Innovative, my theatrical agents who I adore, I said, "I know I'm going to be here for at least six months, so let's give it a shot." So I went on one today, I went on one yesterday. It's fun. Why not?! [Laughs.]

Q: Do auditions make you at all nervous?
Martin: I don't know if I get nervous, but I certainly invest 100% in every audition, so there is a certain level of anxiety or perfectionism. I believe if you go into anything thinking, "Nah, I don't care if I get it or not," that you sabotage the quality of [your work]. But that's what I believe. [Laughs.] I think it's an actor's cop out, frankly. I think they say, "Ahh, it doesn't really make any difference," so if they don't get it, they won't be disappointed. Now my way of doing it is I always get disappointed, but there's always a level of high quality. [Laughs.]

Q: I was a huge fan of "SCTV" and have to admit when I first heard that Harvey Fierstein was going to play Tevye that it sounded like the perfect "SCTV" skit.
Martin: [Laughs.] Gee, I guess it could be actually, but I dare not go that way every night!

Q: One of my favorite moments on "SCTV" was the take-off of the Evita commercial with you playing Indira Gandhi. Was that your idea?
Martin: We all brought our own unique experience to [that show]. So my experience was in theatre. I had a background in theatre — I loved theatre. A lot of people loved film or they loved television. For instance, Rick Moranis had a great recall for vintage television, like 'Leave it to Beaver' and all those shows. I didn't grow up watching TV. I just fantasized in my attic about Broadway shows. I must have said to them, "Let's do a parody [of Evita]." All the theatre parodies were instigated by me, but then we wrote them together.

Q: Getting back to Fiddler — how did the role of Golde come to you?
Martin: I actually read on-line that Harvey was doing it. I saw that Harvey was doing Fiddler on the Roof, and I called my agents, who were his agents. I said, "Ordinarily, I've never replaced anybody, [and] I don't want to replace anybody, but there's something about Harvey that just feels right with my sensibility. Inquire." So they inquired. I met the director, I met the producer, and the rest is history.

Q: As you mentioned, this is the first time you've replaced in a show. What was that experiencing like — rehearsing to replace in a Broadway musical?
Martin: It was very intense, so I didn't have a lot of time to second guess or to question or to self-doubt, because we really had four hours a day, four or five times a week for three-and-a-half weeks. Normally, you have an eight-hour day, and you go for five or six weeks. And, these are lead [roles], so we really didn't have very much time. But there is always that feeling that you can't start from scratch, you can't really re-create, although there was great freedom within those constraints of "be yourself." I think Harvey and I are doing a different interpretation than Fred [Molina] and Randy [Graff], [but] we still had to stick to what the overall theme of the piece was. It's certainly a more dramatic version of Fiddler on the Roof than I guess has been done before, and it's been kind of reinvented. So that's how we were directed. To be honest with you, I loved that because what I've been trying to do is get outside of performing comedy and act [comedy] — and there's a difference, so I was really grateful for [this chance].

Q: Did you get to work with [director] David Leveaux.
Martin: Oh God, yeah. Oh my God! Harvey and I both said that we would not take these jobs unless we had David Leveaux.

Q: Tell me about working with him.
Martin: Obviously, he had the vision of the piece — it was already in his head. He knew where the blocking was. And, I think, it took a lot of care and delicacy and intelligence on his part to sit back and relook at something that was ingrained in him for a year. I think it took a lot of him and from him — a lot of generosity to let us explore. I think it's effective — I hope you'll like it — people seem to.

Q: Did you do much research into Jewish customs or traditions for the role?
Martin: I'm doing it as we go. I did as much as I could during rehearsal. As I said, I was asked on a Saturday night if I would meet them on a Monday, and I did. And then I was cast immediately. . . . I just finished doing The Rose Tattoo, and I researched that for about two years. I went to Italy, I took Italian classes. I read a lot about Tennessee Williams, and I knew all the lines when I went in to the first rehearsal. That was, of course, a much, much more demanding part than this is. And, I'd never done Tennessee Williams, and I had done Broadway musicals, so it was a challenge. But I like going in knowing my lines, knowing as much about the history as I can. I wasn't able to do it before [Fiddler], so I did it as we went along. I'm reading a book right now, which is, I guess, the only book ever written after the fact on life in a shtetl. It's written by anthropologists and historians from Columbia University, and they re-create what it was like, and it's fascinating. So, I'm reading that every night, and I've got lots of book on Judaism, Wise Jewish Women and L'Chaim, and I went to the Jewish Museum. So I'm doing as much as I can as we go along, but I like doing that. I like keeping it alive and finding new things.

Q: You mentioned before about acting comedy versus performing comedy. Is it sometimes difficult to resist some of what must be your natural comic impulses?
Martin: You know, it's not in this piece. It isn't because we're talking about, when all is said and done, a very serious matter: an entire culture wiped out, moved out of the country and massacred and pogroms and uprooting. And, God knows, we know what happened to some Jews. That's the underbelly of all of this. And I think, also, that Golde is the backbone of the family, like all the women were in the shtetls. The men read the holy book, and the women virtually did everything else. They cooked, they cleaned, they raised the daughters. So, there's a certain amount of respect I have for this piece, so for me to break out into an over-the-top comic moment [wouldn't be appropriate] to David Leveaux's vision and not respectful to the piece. Somebody has to be a straight man, because Tevye is a dreamer, and he has much more liberty to go out and embellish comic moments. But I feel the comedy I do in this comes out of the lines and comes out of the relationship, and I don't think I ever step out of that. Maybe in the dream [sequence I do] because it's vaudevillian, but I always feel that I have a core of who she really is. Here's probably a short answer — I never feel in this piece that I'm stepping out and being Andrea Martin. I always feel like I'm Golde, so whatever Golde would do within those realms, that's what I would do.

Q: Your first Broadway show was My Favorite Year, which I liked a lot, and I thought you offered one of the funniest performances I've seen on Broadway.
Martin: Well, leave all those expectations aside tonight! [Laughs.] That was a great experience. That was entirely performing. Dear God, there was no holding me back then! But that's what that piece was — it was about comedy writers, and "Your Show of Shows," and that really called for presentation and coming down to the audience, talking to the audience.

Q: It seems in the past decade or so that you've really focused on theatre. Was that a conscious choice or did roles just happen to come your way?
Martin: No, it was entirely conscious. I could have stayed in L.A. and done sitcoms for awhile and will probably go back and do one I hope. But my love has always been New York. The truth of the matter is I stayed in L.A. raising my children, and when they went to college, I packed my bags along with them and came to New York and looked for parts in the theatre, because that's always what I preferred doing.

Q: What do you think theatre gives you that working on screen might not?
Martin: For pragmatic reasons, I love the routine. I love the structure of it. I love knowing that my days are free. I know where I'm going at night. I know my life is kind of orderly. I just like that better. I don't like sitting around sets — I don't like the unpredictability of it. I like to know where I'm going to be at seven o'clock. I like to know that I'm going to start getting into the performance. It feels manageable, and I feel I can do my best work in that way. So that's the pragmatic side. I guess the creative side is I get the opportunity to grow with the piece. It's really important to me to keep growing and keep finding new things. It's exciting. It's fun for me; it doesn't get boring. I love the comradery of doing theatre that you don't get in film. I started out in summer stock, and that's really what I prefer. I have the work ethic of, "Let's put on a show," and that's really been ingrained in me since I was a child in children's theatre in Portland, Maine. That's where I felt the most secure and safe and loved. It was an instant family, and I don't think those kind of childhood memories vanish very quickly. So that's where I find more security and more creativity.

Q: Are you enjoying working with Harvey?
Martin: He's certainly confident, professional, fun, and I think we're very good with one another because we come from the same world of comedy and yet somebody up there has to keep a steady pace. I think I do that with him, so I think it's a nice combination. I'm not fighting to compete, and I think that's good.

Q: And you're also doing "The Producers" film.
Martin: Susan Stroman is a good friend, and [Debra] Monk is my best friend, and we're all good friends. So, Stro said, "You know what, why don't you two play two old women? We'll feature you, and you'll dance with Nathan." So we're going to do bit parts in that.

Q: You were also offered a role in Spamalot. Was it difficult to turn that down?
Martin: Of course it's difficult to turn anything down when Mike Nichols calls you personally. That's a tough call. [Laughs.] I didn't have this job yet, but I knew — and he knew — we both were operating wishfully that maybe something could expand in the part because he knew it wasn't really enough. So we kept talking about it, and eventually he said, "I don't think we can make this bigger, and I don't want to waste you," and I said, "I don't want to do something that is going to keep me in the same place as an actress." Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Martin: Oh yeah, I'm about to host the Genies, which are the Canadian Academy Awards. I'm writing right now, and I'm going to go to Canada to do a photo shoot. I do that sometime in March, so I get to look like a Jewish woman on a shtetl, and then I get to look like Uma Thurman. [Laughs.] So that will be nice.

Q: Last question: When people hear the name Andrea Martin, what would you like them to think?
Martin: Well, you know, the first word that came to mind was deep and the second word would be versatile.

[You can see the deep, versatile and fabulous Andrea Martin in Fiddler on the Roof at the Minskoff Theatre by calling (212) 307-4100. The Minskoff is located at 200 West 45th Street.]


Orfeh, who provided the highlight of Broadway's Saturday Night Fever with her belty and thrilling rendition of "If I Can't Have You," will reprise that Bee Gees tune at Feinstein's at the Regency March 7. The singer-actress with the powerful, rich alto is part of Feinstein's new "Broadway's Brightest Lights" series and will present her solo evening March 7 at 8:30 PM. Orfeh told me earlier this week that she has titled her show Look at Me Now and will include "an acoustic version of 'If I Can't Have You,' a rock version of 'Piece of My Heart,' a few original tunes and a bunch of R&B songs by Prince, Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan." Orfeh, who has a busy voice-over career, can also be seen this Sunday night on NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Feinstein's at the Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue; call (212) 339-4095 for reservations.

Little Shop of Horrors star Ellen Greene will celebrate Valentine's Day a few days late this year. She and pianist-musical director (and husband) Christian Klikovits will bring their acclaimed evening of Torch songs to Peters Supper Club at the Atrium Design Centre Feb. 17 and 18. Greene will offer tunes from her critically acclaimed debut solo recording, "In His Eyes," which is available on her official website, www.ellengreene.com. Cabaretgoers can expect the actress-singer to perform such tunes as "Pretty Pretty," "Winter," "When Love Is Gone," "Throwing Stones" as well as Little Shop's "Suddenly Seymour" and "Somewhere That's Green." Peters Supper Club is located at 69-930 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage, CA (one block east of Frank Sinatra Drive). Tickets, priced at $20, are available by calling (760) 321-1776. Visit www.petersps.com for more information. Speaking of Greene, wouldn't she make the perfect Roxie Hart in Chicago? Just a thought. . .

I was thrilled to learn that "Nancy LaMott: Live at Tavern on the Green," the new posthumous recording from the late, great cabaret performer, has climbed to the top ten on the Amazon.com list of best-selling recordings. LaMott's new disc, which has received unanimously rave reviews, skyrocketed from #300 to #8 on the Amazon list after a Feb. 9 article by Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal. It is currently at the #7 position. In his Journal article Teachout wrote, "'Live at Tavern on the Green' is the only recording of any of Nancy's live shows to have been released commercially. It was taped at her final public performance. She was wearing a wig, having lost her bottle-blond hair to chemotherapy. Seven weeks later, she was dead. Yet her sweetly husky mezzo-soprano voice had somehow remained untouched by the terrible disease that would soon take her away from all the things for which she'd longed, and she sang as if she knew she'd never have another chance. When she was done, the Chestnut Room of New York's Tavern on the Green exploded in rapturous applause. That's how I remember it, anyway, and I was there." Visit www.nancylamott.com to purchase the wonderful recording on-line.

Fredi Walker Browne, who created the role of Joanne in the original Broadway production of Rent, can be seen in the new children's musical A Band of Angels, based on Deborah Hopkinson's award-winning book about the Jubilee Singers, an all-black choir that was formed in 1867 by freed slaves at Fisk University. Myla Churchill's musical — featuring a rousing score of spirituals — is choreographed and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj and also features Kevin Anthony, Tony Chiroldes, Christine Clemmons, Carmen Barika, Tony Melson, Stacey Sargeant and David St. Louis. A Band of Angels will be presented Feb. 11 at the York College Performing Arts Center and Feb. 14-18 at the Goldstein Theatre at Kingsborough Community College. Tickets, priced at $18, are available by calling (212) 573-8791, ext. 242.

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

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