Photo by Grace Rainer Long
Our dad was an ad man when we were growing up. Picture Don Draper, sans the women and booze. One perk of his job was his frequent trips to NYC to wine and dine a client and bring them to the biggest Broadway shows. And after each trip we’d get a new LP. One day in 1977, he brought home the original Broadway cast recording of Annie.
After hearing the first note come out of Andrea McArdle’s mouth, we spent the next six months driving our parents, siblings and, probably, neighbors crazy singing as loud and hard as we possibly could. And while (the sun’ll come out) “Tomorrow” was all well and good, we were more the sad but hopeful tune types. So our favorite needle drop was the brooding ballad “Maybe” followed by a rousing chorus of “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” “Empty belly life, rotten smelly life.” What’s not to love?
Just like every pre-teen girl in 1977, we wanted to be Andrea McArdle, with dreams of kicking Miss Hannigan in the shins and ice skating at Rockefeller Center with Daddy Warbucks. But, alas, our theatrical endeavors fizzled when we tried our hands at a few high school plays and realized Andrea had more talent in her pinky than we did in our two bodies combined.
But that year, her career was just getting started with Annie. Now, after over 45 years in the business, Andrea is currently starring in an Off-Broadway show called 2 Across and on January 12 will be doing a one-night only performance at the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University. We had the pleasure of talking to Andrea about the two shows and about her storied Broadway career.
The evening at Pepperdine will be filled with her favorite songs from her childhood. She grew up in Philly in a home with two stereos and no TV. She was surrounded by music. She said, “My mother was into Bacharach and Broadway and my father was into opera and jazz. So I got the whole plethora of everything.”
Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and the big bands are her favorite songs to sing but she admitted, “My guilty pleasure is old dirty R&B. So I mix that little R&B approach to whatever I do. Those were the voices that really spoke to me.”
She continued, “I never touch a song that doesn’t speak to me. So mostly what my show is, it’s a lot of ‘70s inspired Broadway because that’s what really inspired me as I was growing up.”
Andrea McArdle’s Early Acting Career
It all began for the pint-sized Andrea when at a very young age, she switched from her Olympic-bound gymnast track to acting. She started with a string of commercials. She recalled, “The minute, even auditioning for commercials, I literally loved it. I think of it as belonging to a great hockey team or a skating team. I thought of it as a sport. I literally had $6-a-week lessons for two years and then I was a professional.”
After six months of commercials she signed a 2-year contract with CBS to do the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. Foreshadowing at its best!
At 13, her small stature made the storylines very atypical for a teenage actress. She noted of her character, “I didn’t adolesce and I couldn’t have a boyfriend. So I had five fathers and six liver transplants, because I didn’t look like I could have a boyfriend.”
Still, lack of on onscreen love life aside, she enjoyed doing the soap. “I loved it from the get go,” she stated. And had it not been for a certain curly, red-headed orphan she might have stayed with it for a very long time.
Andrea McArdle Grows Up
But Broadway called and she has been hooked on musical theater ever since. Her adult roles have included both Fantine and Eponine in Les Misérables, Auntie Mame in Mame, Ashley in Starlight Express and Margy Frake in State Fair.
But her two favorite roles to date are perhaps the most unexpected — Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She claimed, “Belle and Sally Bowles were my two very favorite roles of my life… I was always the good girl and getting to play Sally… I had a shaved hairdo and the whole thing. And that show, that whole production was so authentic… So for me that was so different and for that to happen when you’re almost 40 was such an incredible thing.”
Andrea does have one coveted part she’d like to tackle — Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. She saw both Angela Lansbury and Dorothy Loudon (her Annie co-star) play the role on Broadway and remarked, “It’s my favorite musical… I think that would be my ultimate show.”
In the meantime, she is tackling something she never has in her 45-year career on stage, and she claims it is her biggest challenge yet — a straight play, 2 Across. She admitted after all this time, “I forgot about plays… It’s so weird for me to be doing a play and that’s my biggest challenge, to forget about the song. Music to me is in my fiber from my toes to my eyeballs. Music is my life. I forgot about the actress. The challenge is letting go of the music.”
Andrea McArdle Gets Fined to Hang with Frank Sinatra
We ended our interview with Andrea by asking her which pop culture icon she would choose to be for one day. Before we even finished the question she jumped in with “Frank Sinatra… Nobody phrased like him. Nobody told a story like him. He’s my all time favorite.”
Then she told us of her brush with Ol’ Blue Eyes that might just be our favorite Frank story ever. When she was doing Annie she had heard, “Frank saw the show and went crazy over my voice.” One night during a performance a stage hand told her that Mr. Sinatra was next door at Jilly’s having dinner and was “asking for the kid.” So she did what any self-respecting actress would do when the Chairman of the Board requests an audience. She went. In the middle of a performance of Annie.
She and Frank hung out and talked. In fact, they talked so much, she missed her cue. The music to “Tomorrow” began playing but Little Orphan Annie was nowhere to be found. She was fined $1,500 by Equity and assigned a wrangler to watch her every move from then on. She does not regret the choice and retold her conversation with the angry producers, “‘If Frank Sinatra asked to see you, what would you do?’ They were all silent. She said, ‘Thank you.’”
Thank you, Miss McArdle for 45 years of entertainment. We look forward to many more to come.
Andrea will be performing for one-night only on Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 8 p.m. at the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California. For more information visit arts.pepperdine.edu.
You can also see Andrea in 2 Across at the St. Luke’s Theatre in New York City. For details go to 2AcrossThePlay.com.