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Martha, Martha, Martha!

Three-time Tony Award nominee Martha Plimpton shares her plans for her Lincoln Center American Songbook concert.

By New York City
Martha Plimpton
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Martha Plimpton
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Even though she won numerous awards for her turn last season as Gladys in the Broadway revival of the classic Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey, Martha Plimpton thinks it's entirely appropriate that the title of her Lincoln Center American Songbook concerts on Saturday, January 16, Martha Plimpton Sings?, has a question mark at the end of it. "I am not a famous, well-known songbird. I am not trained as a singer, my high notes are not terribly high," she says with disarming honesty. "Doing Gladys in Pal Joey was a perfect fit, because I played a character who could sing like I could sing."

Still, Plimpton -- the daughter of actors (and singers) Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton -- has been singing professionally for much of her life. Nevertheless, these shows are a new experience for her. "As soon as I said yes last year, I immediately regretted it. I am not usually comfortable being the center of the show. I am much more comfortable as part of an ensemble; the concerts I've done in the past have been with friends," she notes.

Moreover, as Plimpton points out, her fans might be more of a downtown crowd. "Lincoln Center is not my usual venue. My approach is a little more loosey-goosey than people who usually perform there and do formal concerts. I like my shows to be spontaneous. I don't want them to have a clear beginning, middle, and end, because I get nervous if it's too scripted. What will make it fun for everyone is if the audience is prepared to go on an experiential ride with me rather than coming to hear someone beautifully interpret fine songs of yesteryear."

Plimpton is reluctant to give too many details about what songs will be featured in the show, but she happily discusses its theme. "It's about my childhood growing up in New York in the 1970s, and my memories of a city that doesn't exist anymore and the things that shaped my taste. To me songs are like smells; they bring you back to a specific place or person, which triggers other emotions and memories," she says. "It doesn't hurt that the city is our backdrop at the Allen Room. I can literally point to places where I had French fries after school, since I went to the Professional Children's School on West 60th Street, and I remember registering voters when I was 14 at what was then the Gulf & Western building."

Indeed, as the actress points out, she had what some might consider an unusual upbringing. "My mother was an actress, and all of our friends were actors, and we didn't have a lot of money," she recalls. "So I had no babysitters. Instead, I went to see a lot of shows with my mom you wouldn't normally take a kid to; for example, I remember seeing Raul Julia in 3Penny Opera."

Plimpton's house was filled with the sounds of music, but it wasn't the same as her friends. "When I was a small child and other kids were listening to Raffi; the records playing in my house were Tom Waits and Randy Newman," she says. "My mother didn't shy away from things that had sort of a nightmare quality to them. She exposed me to music and art with a darker element. So I find beauty in ugly things. But just because I focus on a dark and scary world, I still find great joy and optimism in it. I promise there will be nothing funereal about this show."

The concerts may be the last chance to see Plimpton live on stage for a while. After a seven-year-period in which she worked practically non-stop (and earned three consecutive Tony nominations in the process), she's temporarily changing priorities, focusing on film and television work, including recent guest spots on Grey's Anatomy and The Good Wife. "I worked so hard for those seven years, tackling one challenge after another that had not come before. I am so grateful, but I think it is healthy for me to take a step back," says Plimpton. "Plus, I need to get up to speed with finances -- those theaters, much as I love them, don't pay a lot of money. Of course, I do miss it. And I am not a morning person; you can definitely tell I'm a theater baby."


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