On October 13, The Wick Theatre kicks off its 2016-17 season with They’re Playing Our Song, a Neil Simon musical comedy about the love between a composer and a lyricist. Broadway veteran Andrea McArdle, best known for originating the role of everyone’s favorite redheaded orphan in the musical Annie, will play budding lyricist Sonia. Though she’s brought Sonia to life before, McArdle is looking forward to portraying her with a new perspective only age can lend.
“The first time I played Sonia, I think I was 19,” McArdle says. “I had none of the proper baggage that Sonia needs to really fly, so I’m so happy to get another stab at it.”
Throughout her decades-long career on Broadway, which began with Annie in 1977 when she was only 13 years old, McArdle has performed in a number of noteworthy shows such as Les Misérables and Starlight Express. However, none are as dear to her as They’re Playing Our Song. She notes many personal parallels between her life and Sonia’s (she was married to an award-winning composer for 23 years, for instance) and has seen the musical onstage many times. She fondly recalls friendly ushers allowing her to stand in the back of the theater to watch the original 1979 production, which starred Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein.
“There’s nothing like seeing the whole original production in its entirety, and it shaped me a whole bunch,” she says. “The show is actually a part of my personal legacy. It’s special to me.”
Here, McArdle talks with PBI.com about the role that changed her life.
PBI.com: You landed the starring role in Annie after a brief stint as an orphan in the production. What was that transition like?
McArdle: We were at the Goodspeed Opera House, and I played the toughest orphan. The show was so new we didn’t even have names yet. My orphan ended up being Pepper, but the analogy would be like the seven dwarfs—there was the toughest, the whiniest, the littlest, the biggest, the meanest—and that’s actually what we were cast as. [Then] Mike Nichols saw the show and he went insane. He was instrumental in getting it on Broadway, because all of us were unknowns including our director. … I replaced the original Annie two weeks after it opened. They told me on a Sunday that I was going to do that role. But when you’re a kid like that you know everybody’s lines. I work with kids now and when I lose my lines, they’re like, “Oh, it’s this.” I knew her role, I knew Hannigan’s role. So they told me on a Sunday night and I opened on Tuesday. And that was it.
In recent years, you’ve played Miss Hannigan in a few productions. How did your experience in the original production of Annie influence your interpretation of Miss Hannigan?
Well, I got to work with the incredible Dorothy Loudon, who was probably one of the most underrated comediennes. … I learned so much from her. She would say, “If you ever move when I’m saying something funny, I will lock the door and change the key.” I just learned Comedy 101 and beyond. Having seen somebody like that close and upfront, knowing the show, and the emotional history, it helped me be a great Hannigan. And I’ll be a great Hannigan for the next 15 years—I’ll actually be better in the next 15 years. And I was blessed with excellent Annies. If I had a bad Annie, that would just be like just tragic for me, and they were both fantastic. The first time was weird and the second time was totally joyous.
What would you say to young girls who dream of making it on Broadway?
For me, it doesn’t matter what level it’s on. It doesn’t matter if it’s community, it doesn’t matter if it’s in school—whatever you do, if you have your dream do it and follow it when you’re really young. Anything you do when you’re really young is like second nature. Anything you do young and work at you’re going to be good at. You’re going to get great at, possibly. Just start as young as you can.