InDepth InterView: Andrea McArdle Talks 54 Below Show DREAM ROLES, Plus New Album, ANNIE Memories, BWW VISITS OZ & More
Today we are talking to a terrifically talented triple-threat diva known for her legendary Broadway performance as the title character in the iconic original production of ANNIE as well as notable appearances since in STARLIGHT EXPRESS, LES MISERABLES, STATE FAIR and more - the engaging and passionate Andrea McArdle. Opening up about her life after "Tomorrow" as well as sharing memories of her time in ANNIE, McArdle sheds some light on her idiosyncratic showbiz career and provides sensational stories from her past and present while also looking ahead to the future. Additionally, McArdle looks back on many of her most famous roles to date, including her roller skating days in STARLIGHT EXPRESS and her recent stint as Mame in MAME, as well as her various Judy Garland-related properties, too - the TV biopic RAINBOW and the stage adaptation of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS among them, not to mention her sensational star turn as the opener of our recent sold-out series of 10th anniversary concerts at Joe's Pub, BROADWAYWORLD.COM VISITS OZ, directed by Richard Jay-Alexander and Marybeth Abel, where she exquisitely performed "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows". Plus, McArdle comments on her recent Broadway Records live album 70'S & SUNNY and the material and decade that inspired it. Most importantly, McArdle looks ahead to her new series of solo shows kicking off at 54 Below this week titled DREAM ROLES and previews some of the stupendous song selections she has chosen for the show - with material by Stephen Sondheim, Charles Strouse and more included! All of that and much, much more awaits in this career-spanning chat with one of Broadway's best and best-loved leading ladies.
More information on Andrea McArdle's DREAM ROLES at 54 Below, running February 10-15, is available at the official site here. Also, order Andrea McArdle's 70'S & SUNNY here.
PC: With DREAM ROLES you will be returning to the place where you first performed and recorded the delightful 70'S & SUNNY.
AM: Yeah, we did the 70'S & SUNNY show there and the album, too. We actually did it there in July first, but I was really unhappy with the sound - they have a great sound system there, but they don't always know how to run it right; of course, the more higher-end the sound system is, the more lessons you need on how to use it and everything. So, we went back and re-recorded the whole show when I went back and did it last January - and the sound was much, much better. So, that's the take that we use on the album.
PC: The fun feel of the show carries through on the album, for sure.
AM: That was a fun act, whereas this act is much more classic Broadway - but, yeah, I loved the 70'S & SUNNY, too. I mean, all those songs really meant something to me - those were all from my formative years. So, it was a really fun act to do and I'm glad we recorded it.
PC: Your inclusion of Billy Joel's "Angry Young Man" was particularly inspired.
AM: Thank you! I always try to put in a Billy Joel song in every show that I do - every time. TURNSTILES is one of my favorite albums of his, actually - from way, way early on. So, we're doing "You're My Home" from that along with "Home" from THE WIZ in this new show, DREAM ROLES.
PC: Were you perhaps inspired a bit to do that by the incredible THE WIZ performances at the recent BROADWAYWORLD.COM VISITS OZ?
AM: Well, I was actually planning on doing "Home" before that, but, after I heard Norm Lewis sing it at that, I thought, "You know what? I don't think anyone ever has to sing this song again! It doesn't get much better than that!" [Laughs.]
PC: You can say that again! He was mesmerizing.
AM: He was. But, as I said, I was actually already doing that song before the OZ concert, though. Speaking of that, though, I can tell you that I will be doing a little Judy Garland section in this show, too - we're doing "Over The Rainbow" in one section.
PC: What musical theatre material can we anticipate in DREAM ROLES?
AM: I'm doing a lot of fun Broadway material in this one - for instance, this season, little kids were everywhere on Broadway between MATILDA and ANNIE and everything else, so I am doing "Little Girls" from ANNIE.
PC: A chance for audiences to sample your Miss Hannigan!
AM: Yes! And, I tell a very funny story about Dorothy Loudon in the middle of it, too.
PC: Did you actually audition for the role in the recent revival?
AM: No, I could not get in for it!
PC: What a shame - and what an amazing lost opportunity.
AM: I know. [Sighs.] It's not the same anymore - you know, the creators, Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan, they sold the rights now and it has a whole new licensing agreement. So, they wouldn't even see me for it - which I think was really dumb. I mean, I think I am a really good Hannigan, but, just marketing-wise, they obviously needed something that they didn't have and that could have been it.
PC: If ANNIE can't last on Broadway...
AM: It was a lousy production - you couldn't hear a word the kids said; and, they were all so talented! I think it was just a matter of James Lapine, who I am a huge fan of, was the wrong guy to direct that show - he managed to make it not funny. That was just nuts.
PC: And it's a very funny show. It seems the laughs were intentionally avoided in many instances.
AM: None of the revivals of ANNIE have been very good, actually. Thank God we have the original album, at least. The original production of that show was a fantastic musical and it's not the musical that I see out there today.
PC: I was always curious if Mike Nichols had a hand sharpening the show given his producer position?
AM: Oh, my God - yes! But, it was Martin Charnin's baby - before ANNIE, he was down to his last pennies and he was sleeping in his office; he didn't even have an apartment. He gave everything up for that show to keep it going. In those days, especially, Charles was very focused on the advertising world and he always has five shows he is working on, anyway - always. So, Martin was the one - it was really his baby.
PC: How do you view how Broadway has changed in the last 20 or 30 years insofar as properties that are chosen to be musicalized - especially as someone who participated in an early screen-to-stage adaptation with STATE FAIR?
AM: I know what you mean. I have to say, I'm skeptical about ROCKY and with GHOST it was the same thing. I mean, the movies are so iconic... they are perfection! It's weird to me. I mean, what happened to new stories? We have so many movies-to-musicals - they are everywhere. A lot of times, the book is better than the movie, anyway, so when you take something to do a show of it... I don't know. Most of them don't succeed.
PC: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS was one you did that worked quite well, fortunately.
AM: Oh, wow - yeah, that was a great one. "The Boy Next Door"? "The Trolley Song"? That made a great stage musical. Actually, that reminds me of another Judy Garland tidbit from my life - when I was doing ANNIE in London, they sent her piano player over to rehearse with me for the Judy Garland movie I did, RAINBOW. His name was Buddy Pepper. So, he took me down to Baker Street every day for like three weeks and we learned all the songs. We just played through all the songs - basically the whole Hoagy Carmichael songbook. To be exposed to that at 14 years old was pretty amazing.
PC: Did you ever brush elbows with Marvin Hamlisch while working on THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG? Your cover of "Fallin'" on 70'S & SUNNY is delectable.
AM: I actually have two funny Marvin Hamlisch stories that are somewhat similar - you see, Marvin Hamlisch walked out on not one, but two of my final callbacks! [Laughs.]
PC: What happened?
AM: The first one was for SMILE, years ago, with the late, great Howard Ashman. He walked out right before I started to sing - usually, I can understand if you walk out if I am going to be reading, but usually they don't walk out when I sing. [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious!
AM: The other was when I auditioned for him for SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS - and, it happened again! Before I sang, he walked out. Isn't that funny?
PC: It is. What a marvelous score that show had.
AM: Oh, God - it's fantastic. I love the whole piece. I really love singing "Fallin'" too - but, as I'm sure you know, it's the only song that my character doesn't get to sing in the show! So, I finally got to do it in 70'S & SUNNY. Actually, we were going to do "If You Really Knew Me" in this show, but we decided on something else instead.
PC: Will there be any other Hamlisch material in DREAM ROLES?
AM: Unfortunately not, but there will be some Cy Coleman in a sort of similar vein to that SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS stuff - I am doing "Nobody Does It Like Me" [from SEESAW]. But, instead of having it be like a self-deprecating type thing, I'm really playing it as the joyfulness of a happy screw-up, you know? It's really great.
PC: Have you ever sung any CITY OF ANGELS songs?
AM: Well, I never did "You Can Always Count On Me" only because I love Randy Graff's version so much - I love how she does it.
PC: What else can we expect insofar as the most unique material in DREAM ROLES?
AM: Well, my special guest for the first two shows is Lea DeLaria and we are going to reprise our "Bosom Buddies" from MAME.
PC: She just did this column recently, as a matter of fact - she is so funny and sharp.
AM: Oh, I know! I was just with her and her girlfriend last night and we went to this fashion show and then ate like pigs at the Empire Diner! [Big Laugh.]
PC: You two share a considerable rapport, then, I assume?
AM: Oh, totally! She's just the sweetest person. And, let me tell you, when we did MAME together, you definitely didn't think of Bea Arthur! I mean, they really weren't keen on having her as Vera at first, but, I said, "You really need someone to break the mold. You can't have anyone like her because no one can ever be Bea Arthur!" So, Lea totally reinvented it - totally reinvented it.
PC: Is MAME a role you would like to do again - perhaps on Broadway someday?
AM: Oh, my God - yes! I'll tell you, if I could get a production going that was up to the level of Broadway, I would so love to do it. I mean, not a lot of belters can really handle it - it's written a lot lower than people think; you've really got to have those low, low notes. And, you really need to have a rich low voice to do it - and a lot of people don't know that I have that. That score - the whole show - just matches my voice and it's a perfect marriage. And, the music aside, that book is so hilarious and so good - it is so modern. There is something so modern about MAME, I think, in general.
PC: It's time for a revival - especially given the 21st century Depression of today.
AM: There are a lot of parallels!
PC: On the topic of Jerry Herman, will you be doing any MACK & MABEL material in DREAM ROLES given your affiliation with it?
AM: Yes - we are doing "Wherever He Ain't". That's such a crowd-pleaser - everyone likes that one.
PC: Do you ever do "Time Heals Everything" these days?
AM: Well, of course, I did it on the album of JERRY'S GIRLS, but I haven't done it in a long time. We'll have to haul that back out soon. For me, when someone I know and love has done something like that...
PC: Like Bernadette Peters did originally...
AM: Exactly. I mean, I don't touch any Linda Eder songs! Streisand either. For me, "Time Heals Everything" really belongs to Bernadette still, so that's why I don't do it - out of respect.
PC: Will you be reprising any of your material from LES MISERABLES?
AM: No, we are not doing anything from LES MIZ this time - we are not doing "I Screamed A Scream". [Laughs.] We are doing some more fun stuff in this show. For instance, I am opening with "A Lot Of Livin' To Do" from BYE BYE BIRDIE - which is by Charles Strouse, of course. I love that song and I used to have this great version of Shirley Bassey doing it, but my mother never liked me singing that song for some reason and I never did it. So, it's been in my back pocket ever since - I've been wanted to do that song for so long and we literally just put it in the show last week. It's a great opener. Also, I am doing "It Might As Well Be Spring" because of this polar vortex we are going through right now. Plus, it's such a pretty song.
PC: Speaking of Shirley Bassey, given your tremendous belt, that would be a ripe idea for a future solo show of yours, would it not?!
AM: Oh, I love her stuff! I love her so much. That's part of why I love Beyonce - she's a little throwback to Lola Falana and Shirley Bassey; that old school discipline and philosophy. She's amazing.
PC: What do you think of the modern musical age we are in with the popularity of movie musicals again - including a hip-hop take on ANNIE coming up later this year; produced by Jay-Z, no less?
AM: I know! That was actually an idea I had years and years ago - and I think that the version they should have done recently should have been an all-black version. I mean, I actually took Ben Vereen to Charles Strouse's office!
PC: What happened?
AM: Well, it was after the whole re-licensing agreement, but he loved the idea - Charles totally loved the idea. But, you know, Charles Strouse's music has soul - even just look at the ALL IN THE FAMILY theme he wrote; he's so soulful, especially for a New York boy. So, I thought, there are a lot of little Whitney Houstons running around - and I know from auditions that for every little white girl you find who can sing like that, you'll also find 25 black girls who are insanely good. For instance, I think that the girl who was just in the OZ concert [Olivia Hardy] is going to be a star.
PC: I personally found the LIFE AFTER TOMORROW documentary about ANNIE to be abhorrent. I take it from your absence that you did not approve of it?
AM: You know what? I said to the woman who made it, "My experience was so wonderful - I smell a bitch-fest." I mean, since when does a show owe anybody - anybody - a career? That one show didn't owe me a career, let alone the 50 people who did the bus and truck tours afterwards. They did not have my experience or even the Broadway experience, a lot of them - it was just different. And, it was a total bitch-fest, just like I knew it would be. I remember I told her, "I wouldn't fit in your movie." I couldn't go there because it just is not the truth for me, you know? That wasn't my experience with the show at all.
PC: It says all that needs to be said with you not participating.
AM: Yeah, I know. At the time, I called Charles and I called Martin and they were a little mad at me at first about not doing it. So, I said, "Let's have this conversation when it comes out and let's see if you feel the same way. This is my choice and that's it." I just don't like it and the whole way that it was being done was really sneaky, I thought.
PC: So sensationalized.
AM: I mean, how depressing is it seeing overweight girls in ANNIE sweatshirts re-doing "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile?" I would slit my wrists!
PC: Touching on another legendary composer from your past, what was it like working on the original Broadway production of STARLIGHT EXPRESS? I've heard Andrew Lloyd Webber was very involved and hands-on on that show, in particular.
AM: You're right. He was. It was a strange project for me, though, because I would see some of the creative team guys - not Andrew - coming to work after being out all night; not even go home and shower or anything. So, that was interesting. But, I was so used to be isolated in my own dressing room and everything on ANNIE - being above the title and all of that - so to be in a show like STARLIGHT was like being in a sorority, and it was awesome.
PC: What was the worst injury you endured in your time on STARLIGHT?
AM: Well, Joey McNeely was one of Electra's components - he was like a tool who spun around, and Joey was so great at spinning, so he was spinning like crazy and he had his fists out, and, because we were on wheels, you never really stopped in exactly the same spot every night, so we collided and he fractured my cheekbone and I blew out my knee one night.
PC: How horrible!
AM: Yeah - I almost lost my second toe from infection, too, actually! [Laughs.] But, you know what, that's how it goes! It's like having a baby - you just get through it. We had so much fun on that show, though - it was so much fun to do.
PC: How fast were you back in the show? A few weeks?
AM: Oh, no - I think I was back in three or four shows later!
PC: That's nuts - and that's dedication!
AM: Yeah, yeah - it was. And, if you watch the Tony Awards from that year, I do "Two Lost Souls" with Robert Torti, the guy who played Greaseball, on skates. I remember at the time my mother said to me, "Why did they shoot it from so far away? I could barely see you!" And, it was because I had a huge shiner - my cheekbone was fractured! But, they shot us from so far back to avoid showing me like that that we ended up looking like ants. [Laughs.]
PC: Robert Torti is so underrated and hilarious.
AM: I know! He was so good at being like super-cool and Danny Zuko-like. Since we're talking about it, though, I remember that the sets that they built for that show were so beautiful, too - John Napier did this beautiful, beautiful mural with the Golden Gate bridge and pastures and everything; it looked like a hallucination, but in a good way! But, when we got to the theater and did it for the first time on that set, everyone was horrible! Horrible! I remember seeing the color just drain from all of their faces watching us. So, they had to scratch the stage up and fix it so we could grip onto it better - so, that part was really daunting. We all looked like such amateurs at that rehearsal, though! It was horrifying.
PC: Mega-musicals to bargain basement, what are your thoughts on the significantly reduced orchestra sizes these days?
AM: I think it's a disgrace - a disgrace. The essence of theatre is that it is live - and that includes live musicians. I mean, I would do any show with 30 musicians - even if it was a second-tier show - because you cannot replicate that sound of a big orchestra playing live.
PC: On that note, most tours are going non-Equity these days, too.
AM: [Sighs.] I don't understand why we haven't gone on strike five times by now! I really don't. I mean, minimum wage is going to end up beating us pretty soon! For those of us who are lucky enough to get jobs, you can barely even do them - producers just need to realize the value of performers. To be doing theatre in this town, especially, for as little as many people make - it's a disgrace.
PC: One of the most recently-written roles you have taken on was in a regional production of URINETOWN. Tell me about that strange and wonderful show.
AM: That's right! I played Penelope Pennywise up at Connecticut Rep - it was really, really fun.
PC: URINETOWN is in the West End right now, as a matter of fact.
AM: Oh, really?! That's so cool. Actually, I think the timing to do URINETOWN right now is really good. I hope it's a hit.
PC: Another recent show you did: GREENWOOD is a musical you premiered at NYMF a few years back.
AM: Yeah - GREENWOOD was about these kids who go to Stagedoor Manor and so there were younger and older versions of us in the show. Honestly, in my mind, GREENWOOD needed a sort of sensuality like THE BIG CHILL had that I think was missing. It didn't have any of that juiciness to it, but it was fun to do anyway.
PC: Given your new 54 Below show is titled DREAM ROLES, what are the actual parts you are dying to play?
AM: Well, we do "Everybody Says Don't" - which is one of my all-time favorite songs to sing.
PC: I'd love to see you as Cora Hoover Hooper in ANYONE CAN WHISTLE! Do you do the show version or the Streisand arrangement?
AM: Well, I did that song in my Joe's Pub thing with Richard Jay-Alexander years ago, but we are doing a different version right now. It's really fast, but it's awesome.
PC: Speaking of Sondheim, have you gotten to work with him one-on-one yet?
AM: Well, I was up for Cinderella in INTO THE WOODS when it first came out - I thought Little Red Riding Hood would have been perfect for me, but Danielle Ferland was so great in it. I was at the final callback for Cinderella, though, so I remember I went in for it and I was a cocky little kid - 20-something - and I said to them, "I can do it in this key, but it really sounds better down a half. Can I do it for you?" So, I did "On The Steps Of The Palace" that way, but they didn't have any time listed on the music so we ended up doing it like a Frank Sinatra ballad! I remember Sondheim came up to the foot of the stage and said he loved it and everything, but, he said, "I never change my keys." So, I guess I wasn't really right for Cinderella. That was the only time I ever got to work with him.
PC: Are there any other special musical theatre songs we can look forward to in DREAM ROLES?
AM: Well, I do "Doatsie Mae" from THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, which I love! I just love Carol Hall's writing.
PC: Did you ever do "Hard Candy Christmas" in your Christmas shows down in Atlantic City?
AM: We didn't actually, but we did do "We Need A Little Christmas" from MAME. We did a lot of pop-based, secular stuff in that.
PC: Can we expect your signature song, "Tomorrow"?
AM: Yes. We are doing a beautiful arrangement of "Tomorrow" by David Loud. It's the medley of "Look For The Silver Lining" and "Tomorrow", which is really different than what people may be used to, but I really like it.
PC: A reprise of MY FAVORITE BROADWAY: THE LEADING LADIES! What are your memories of that momentous night?
AM: Oh, my God! I remember it was like me, Marin Mazzie, Judy Kuhn and Elaine Stritch in one dressing room! I remember being like, "Oh, my God! It's like a who's who!" They had these monitors in the back and everybody was rooting for everybody else! But, with those kinds of nights... I mean, you wait your whole career to have an evening like that. It was amazing. The funny thing about that, too, is that I wasn't even supposed to be in it!
PC: No way! What's the story?
AM: Yeah - I wasn't on the posters or anything. Bernadette Peters had to cancel, so I was a last-minute addition - but, hey, it ended up getting me BEAUTY & THE BEAST! Honestly, I didn't think it really showed off what I could do - I remember being like, "Wait a second - you're going to have Jennifer Holliday do her anthem and I am doing this?!" But, as it turned out, it ended up doing more for my career than a million other concerts did.
PC: What was your favorite memory of the night?
AM: Oh, I'll never forget a, like, 10-year-old Anna Kendrick doing a song as one of the dirty Kit Kat Klub girls from CABARET, but I guess they cut that out when they showed it on TV because they thought it was too risqué! I thought she was just adorable.
PC: Speaking of CABARET, tell me about working with Rob Marshall.
AM: Yes! Robbie directed me in CABARET and on the ANNIE TV movie. I remember Sam [Mendes] came in and worked with me, too, but I remember Rob was really the one who would come and check in when I was on the road with it and all of that. He was a joy to work with - and, of course, when you work with Robbie you work with his partner, John De Luca, too; and he's a pretty fabulous director himself! It's an amazing team.
PC: Would you play Sally again? Are you looking forward to this season's upcoming revival?
AM: Oh, I would! I think I am getting a little long in the tooth, but I would definitely love to do it again. Let me tell you, I cannot wait for the revival - I know Alan [Cumming] is going to be Alan and stellar as usual, but I just can't wait to see Michelle Williams in it. I think she is going to be magical.
PC: Why so, specifically?
AM: Well, she has that special thing - she can be so disarming. She has that lovable thing about it where you want her to win - and, it's not something she does, it's just who she is. I think it's going to be phenomenal to see her in this role. I really do.
PC: She certainly made Marilyn Monroe her own.
AM: I know! I mean, she doesn't even move or really look like her, but she is just such a chameleon! I really think she is going to be on that Meryl Streep level someday. And, she seems like a really great girl besides that.
PC: What about playing one of the other roles yourself?
AM: Oh, I'd love to play Kost! And, when I get older, I think Schneider is just a beautiful, beautiful role - I'd love to sing "Married" and "Pineapple". I remember I had Alma Cuervo as my Schneider when I did it and she was just amazing. Amazing.
PC: What's next after your series of 54 Below shows?
AM: Well, first, I am about to do a play reading called LOVE AND CLASS IN CONNECTICUT. When I did VAGINA MONOLOGUES last year, Karen Carpenter directed it and she has really taken off since then, so this is like the third time we have been trying to do it. So, I believe Joanna Gleason is going to play my mother and Melissa Joan Hart is going to be in it, too. That's what I am working on right now. Then, after that, I am doing 4 GIRLS 4 with Donna McKechnie and Faith Prince and Maureen McGovern - we open at the Parker Playhouse in March.
PC: What will you be performing in 4 GIRLS 4?
AM: Well, it's really cool because John McDaniel is conducting and he wrote this gorgeous counter-melody to "Together Wherever We Go" and Donna choreographed it and we do it as the opening number - we just rehearsed it the other day and it was really terrific. What's also unique about the show is that we each do 20 minutes of our own material and then an eleven o'clock number section at the end - which was my idea. So, we all do eleven o'clock numbers or our famous songs at that part. I think it's going to be pretty fabulous.
PC: Is there a FOLLIES role you are dying to play sometime soon - Sally or Phyllis?
AM: Well, I could do either and I like them both, so I'm open to suggestions. The part I really want to play is Joanne in COMPANY, though. Actually, I was supposed to go in for Joanne at a regional theater recently, but I was so busy that I couldn't do it. I was thinking of doing "Ladies Who Lunch" in this act, but we ended up pulling it out and doing something different.
PC: How did you get involved with the "Broadway Shuts Down Sochi" viral video?
AM: Well, John Bolton just called me and said, "Could you please come and do this video?" so I did. I was only there for the filming of the section that I did, though, so I didn't get to see everybody else doing their stuff. But, I just saw the whole thing the other day and I thought it was really, really funny. And, it has a lot of hits on YouTube, too! It's another one of those who's who of Broadway that I got to be a part of, I guess.
PC: BROADWAYWORLD.COM VISITS OZ certainly is yet another one of those, too!
AM: Oh, that was so, so much fun and I loved how Richard did it with me starting the show out in the audience like that - that was really cool. I thought the whole show was just fantastic, though. I mean, Andre De Shields? Forget it! And, I loved doing "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" - I hadn't done that song since I did it originally back in 1978!
PC: What that Richard Jay's idea?
AM: Oh, yeah - that was totally all his idea. Actually, my music director, Steve Marzullo, just told me a hilarious story about OZ - Vivian Vance was dating Yip Harburg when he was working on the songs for the movie of THE WIZARD OF OZ and when they heard "Over The Rainbow" for the first time, Louis B. Mayer and the other movie execs said, "No way - it's too sappy and too sad. You have to come up with something new," and, she said, "You fight for that damn song at all costs!" And, he did. I mean, can you imagine not having "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in THE WIZARD OF OZ?
PC: It would be like having ANNIE without "Tomorrow"!
AM: [Laughs.] Exactly! Exactly.
PC: This was absolutely magnificent, Andrea. Thank you so much.
AM: This was so much fun, Pat. Thank you so much, sweetie. Bye bye.
Photo Credits: Walter McBride, Linda Lenzi, etc.