Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interview with Andrea McArdle

Actress/singer Andrea McArdle made a big splash on Broadway in 1977 as the very first Annie, and has not stopped working since. She has been seen more recently in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express 
and State Fair, and this summer, essayed for the very first time the role of Miss Hannigan in Annie
She is about to repeat Miss Hannigan for Musical Theatre West's production opening in Long Beach on October 30. In our chat she speaks about Annie, Hannigan and other theatrical delights.
(photo credit: Mitch Danforth; North Carolina, summer 2010 as Miss Hannigan)

Was 1977 - Annie - as stressful as it was successful for you? When you're a kid, it can't be easy. How did you handle it? What do you think now as you look back?

I think the beauty of the whole experience was we really didn't know what the stakes were. So, there was no stress. The whole idea of acting is getting back to the mind of a child, so it's a lot easier for kids and, if there's a right type like I was, incredibly ADD-ish (Attention Deficit Disorder) who needed to be consumed at all times - I'd have to draw while I was listening to the teacher, be active - so that's what grabbed me so much about theatre. I actually started in television.

Did you do soaps?

I did about 50 commercials and then I played Louise Lasser's daughter on a CBS pilot that Alan Alda presented, and then - of course, it was the one right before Mary Hartman - and then I did a soap for three years, so I had no theatre experience. The minute I had it, it was a great one. Talk about your first experience in theatre at all was that show and that role (Annie).

You must have been singing from an early age? You had (and still do have) a terrific voice.

Thank you. Since I was about seven or eight. As a teenager I loved the whole aspect of singing and dancing. Singing was easy for me to do, not that I was particularly good, but my parents were music freaks. They always had incredible music around in my house. I loved music before I loved TV.

Well, you knocked those songs out of the ballpark eight times a week and that couldn't have been so easy?

No microphones, no body mic. That was an incredible task, but I think most people don't understand the art of true, natural theatre projection. It's almost a hindrance now, as they write songs so loud. My dream is to have something that goes back to a more natural acoustic sound. Now we're so used to hearing this pumped up and beefed-up and wet sounds on Broadway. Natural works just fine, I think.

Is you solo CD Andrea McArdle on Broadway from the 90s your only one? It's just great!

For this next year that's my big task. I want to do a real live one, not the studio kind. A pure live concert ...maybe in LA. Full band...I want to go broke doing it. The first one was produced by my husband (composer Ed Kalehoff) and it was clean, maybe a little bit too pop-ish an approach to some classics of roles that I played. I'm a studio girl; I love singing in the studio. I also love doing cabaret and concerts, so I still prefer singing live. 

What is the favorite role you've played in a show?

I have to say probably Sally Bowles in Cabaret in 2001. I was 37 at the time, and it was right after I had done Belle (Beauty and the Beast), so it was quite a switch. Then I got to do it three times again in Tokyo. For somebody who's played good girls all her life, it's so much fun to play a bad girl.

Speaking of bad girls, how did playing Miss Hannigan this summer work for you?

It went great, but I have to tell you, it was a strange thing. You know, I had made my peace with the show. It's a part of my legacy, which at times has been a thorn in my side, but  it's opened many more doors than it's shut. Those that know me know that there's a whole lot more to know, especially these after 40 years.

Did you want to do the role?

I've wanted to do characters for about ten years now. For instance, I've wanted to do Madame T (Thenardier) in Les Mis, but not yet.  I've done Eponine and Fantine. Ever since I was a little kid and saw Angela Lansbury in Gypsy, I never wanted to be anyone in that show but Mama Rose, but I was cast as Louise and my father would not let me go on tour. I'm a huge Angela fan and that's a role I dream of. Angela, Elaine Stritch, Chita, all those old schoolers.

Have they approached you about doing Miss Hannigan in the newest Broadway incarnation?

No, they haven't. And it would be a really great thing if I turn out to be great in the role, and if I'm not, I have no interest in doing it. It's really fun for me to be able to do a few regional productions with some really solid theatre companies with fresh eyes and fresh vision. It's been a departure of sorts and I'm excited about getting to Long Beach and to apply all the things that occurred to me in North Carolina and all those epiphanies that I had...you know we had a really short run this summer. Usually I'm a very quick study - and I know the show. It was so hard for me not be outside my body watching the whole thing like somebody on The John Edwards Show. It was bizarre. It was a trip...I had to focus, meditate and do all sorts of stuff. Usually I can just walk right in there, but this was very tough. I hope I got that all out of my system, because I did have those weird, freak-out moments when I said, "What are you doing?"

How much of Dorothy Loudon (the original Miss Hannigan) is there in your portrayal? Did she have a great influence on you?

Are you kidding? Huge. I mean, huge... we were sitting there at the Kennedy Center playing carpet jacks - jacks on the carpet, because they got sick of hearing us - we're sitting behind the sofa and "Easy Street" wasn't really written until right before we opened. To sit there and see her working and doing that improv thing with Tommy Meehan and Martin Charnin, who were very sought after writers at that point - they were actually picked for SNL (Saturday Night Live), the initial writers... Annie was the same year. She...she hung the moon for me. She didn't really like kids, but I'll tell you, we had such a great relationship, 'cause I had that real little "You can't take the Philly out of the girl" and she loved it. I told it like it was and she was the same.  We had this kind of sistership. She was amazing. She'd look at me and she'd say, "One more Goddamn time...", as I was saying something funny, "...and you don't have to come back to the Alvin Theatre ever again. We're going to change the locks." She could talk to me that way and she was great...she was brilliant.

The two of you were so great in the original show... Who are your favorite singers?

Most of them are really old like R&B and gospel singers. I love Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder. I usually like male singers more, but I'm a huge Rosemary Clooney fan, Shirley Bassey fan, Dionne Warwick, Karen Carpenter definitely... and new people like Pink, I love Lady Gaga, John Couger Mellancamp, Ricky Lee Jones...I like funky weird; I have eclectic tastes you know...but I'm a sucker for good R&B.

Who is your favorite composer for the Broadway stage?

I would have to say Sondheim. I love R and H music too (Rodgers and Hammerstein) and Kander and Ebb.

What about your favorite shows?

Gypsy, West Side Story and Sweeney Todd. My modern favorite would have to be Les Miserables. 

That's a great show!

The cinematic beauty of it...and it was also the show that my daughter (Alexis Kalehoff) made her Broadway debut in. That was 1996, and she was there for quite a while.

Is there a role you yearn to play?

I'd love to do Next to Normal and I'd love to do Mrs. Lovett (Sweeney). I've always wanted to do Chess...oh and Norma Desmond in Sunset (Boulevard)... even in the next five years... yeah!

I lost her as she crossed the Triboro Bridge. Driving and talking on a cell? Illegal... but everybody does it! Oh, the modern age, cell phones and the courage/lack of shame of some actors! Maybe she was hypnotized by the spirit of Norma Desmond, who knows? There one minute, gone the next! 
She'd make a great Norma, but,  at present, you must see the amazing  Andrea McArdle as she comes full circle in Annie as Miss Hannigan in MTW's new production, previewing October 29, opening October 30 and running until November 14 at The Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach.
 Musical Theatre West Box office phone number is 562-856-1999 x4 and the website address is www.musical.org

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