Interview with Andrea McArdle, the original Broadway Annie


Novelist Amy Shearn authored today's post.

On March 15 at the Wilmette Theatre, North Shore residents and beyond will have an opportunity that would make seven-year-old me shriek with joy. No, it's not a pet unicorn or a canopy bed: it's a performance by the talented show business veteran Andrea McArdle, who created the role of Annie in the Broadway musical Annie in 1977.

Andrea was kind enough to chat with me recently about her upcoming performance, her illustrious career in show business, and a certain spunky orphan named Annie.

AS: Okay, I'm sorry, you're probably tired of talking about "Annie"...

AM: (laughing) I've made my peace with it. During the whole thing I was not that fun to deal with. It's just so different when you're in it.

AS: I was obsessed with "Annie" as a kid.

AM: I always meet gay guys who are like, "The red album! The red album!" [The original Broadway cast recording]

AS: Exactly. I read that you were pulled from the chorus of orphans to play Annie on Broadway.

AM: I was the toughest orphan. The only reason they never considered me for Annie was that I wasn't a redhead. I was on the soap opera "Search for Tomorrow" and I was contracted with long brown hair. Then they realized not to look for what's outside -- you could dye hair or wear a wig, not that my mother would have let me dye my hair -- but to look for the soul of the character, and I got the role.

AS: What was it like to be cast as Annie?

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AM: The show wasn't a hit then. To me, I treated it the same way I treated the school play -- I didn't really see the difference between that and Broadway. I had no idea what a Tony award was. When I was nominated for one I was like, "Oh, cool." It was just another gig.

I have great parents. I was always the daughter before a commodity. I was a gymnast before theatre and it was just like that -- being part of a team. Afterwards, it became a hit. When it hit we knew we were the toast of the town. It could have been terrible, but like I said, I had great parents.

AS: What was it like being a child star?

AM: I'm lucky that it wasn't television, which uses you up and spits you out. You know, sometimes I'm still waiting for my "Norma Rae" role and think it just hasn't happened yet. (laughs.) After "Annie," I had offers to go on sitcoms but they were all terrible and luckily we knew better. It would have had a horrible outcome, just trashed my reputation. They didn't know what do with kids when I was hot.

Today they have the Disney channel, I would have had my own show, a whole franchise. But then, American Broadway was dying -- it was the beginning of the British Invasion and all major producers were on their last legs. There were really no projects around, so we just didn't get to ride the momentum. That's why it's nice to also be a singer. It was hard to cast me -- I looked like an eight-year-old boy until I was eighteen and then suddenly grew up one summer -- so no one knew what to do with me.

AS: You appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and performed with Liberace. What was that like?

AM: It was amazing. I wasn't phased. I did the Carson show three times. I played Judy Garland in the movie Rainbow on NBC and Liberace saw it. I was in school writing a paper on JFK and got a call to go to Las Vegas. Liberace gave me my sweet 16 party, which was wrong on so many levels, but great.

AS: What do you think of contemporary child stars?

AM: Ugh, so many of them are puppets for sick parents. It's so different from getting into business because a child has talent. I feel horrible for them; I would never want to grouped into the child star group.

AS: Do you ever get tired of being Annie?

AM: Well, sometimes I think the Annie thing has held me back. If I had arrived on scene at 18 or 19 it would been better -- you can't be an adolescent girl in mary janes and a red dress forever. But I wouldn't change a thing.

AS: What were some of your favorite roles?

AM:I got to play Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." I was 37, and I was surprised they were calling me. I thought they were calling me for Mrs. Potts and I was like, Mmm, I don't know if I'm ready to play a teapot. But I loved playing Belle. My daughter was 12, and it was great to be in something she was so in to. I think that's the best Disney story, too. It's not just for kids. It has universal appeal.

I loved played Sally Bowles -- it's really fun to play a bad girl.

AS: Many Ageless North Shore readers are redefining or reevaluating their lives and careers at midlife. How have you managed to maintain such an active career in a field notoriously interested in youth?

Andrea at New York's Metropolitan Room. (photo by Richard Termine )[/caption]

AM: Well, you know, I'm in a period of crossroads. I've been mature enough to play mothers for almost a quarter of a century. This business owes us nothing. Who wants to wait two years to sing two great songs in a show? That's why cabaret is so incredibly appealing. No one wants to see, you know, a "seasoned" 17-year-old sing cabaret. It took me years to feel comfortable with cabaret; it's easier to sing for 6000 people than for 60. You have to deal with the people and their energy...but once you face it, it's liberating.

Now I have so many great stories and I can chat with the audience. It's a live version of what a book would be, but it's all off the top my head. I've had a lot of funny experiences! Who else performs for the queen at 13? I mean, Catherine Zeta Jones was my Molly in London. No one could pronounce her name -- we called her Zeetie. It's just interesting to see where everybody ends up.

My story is a success story -- theater is what I love. I was lucky. Now you have to go and do tv just to get the roles you want. Since Broadway went corporate it's just such a machine. It changed everything. It's all marketing. I mean, when you see reality tv show stars getting's tough. But in theater,you do it for the love of it. And I love what I do.

For tickets to an "Evening of Song, ANDREA MCARDLE with Doug Peck on the piano", Monday March 15 at 7:30 at the Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette, IL click here.

Amy Shearn is the author of How Far Is the Ocean from Here. Her work has appeared in Jane, West Branch, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a baby and a dog. Visit her online at

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