Rainy days and Mondays don’t get Andrea McArdle down. The Tony-nominated actress, who has been working steadily onstage since making her Broadway debut in 1977, is returning 54 Below, the new performance space located underneath Studio 54, to give a second performance of her hit show “70s and Sunny” January 17 – 19. A collection of her favorite songs from the 1970s as well as showtunes, “70s and Sunny,” will be recorded live for an album recording, which will be released in the spring.
“It’s basically all the music in the 70s that inspired my style, my sound and my love of music,” McArdle said. “This is the first time in my acts I’ve actually picked the songs, and I did notice a difference in the material. I believe in the material a little bit more. It happened organically.”
Performing below Studio 54 brings back fond memories for McArdle, who described the club in the 70s as “crazy and exciting,” and said the memories inspired her choice in music. Along with songs from the 70s, McArdle’s show will feature some Broadway favorites, including the famously challenging song “Meadowlark” by Stephen Schwartz. McArdle performed the song at the first performance of “70s and Sunny” and received an extremely positive response.
“I just enjoy singing the song, after getting over the horror of the 17 pages of lyrics,” McArdle said of “Meadowlark,” which she first performed for the composer at an event in his honor in Palm Springs, Florida. “When you get off one lyric in ‘Meadowlark,’ you can’t recover. But it was worth it. I found something.”
McArdle rose to fame at a young age originating the role of Annie on in the first production of the musical on Broadway and being the youngest ever nominee for Best Actress in a Musical. She describes her experiences as a high-profile teenager as challenging.
“I had so much success, so fast, it really made me want to go be anonymous for a bit,” she said. “Adolescence is weird, no matter who you are, especially when you think everybody is watching you.”
McArdle, who also originated the role of Annie in London, is very honest about the effects of stardom on her career, saying, “I think if I hadn’t gotten the role of Annie that soon, and my break didn’t come until later, I think I would have been a much bigger star without that show. There are downsides to being catapulted to stardom that young.”
Being interviewed as a teenager was a difficult at first for McArdle, who experienced frustration when she was misrepresented by journalists. When asked for her thoughts on how the internet has affected being a performer today, she said, “Thank God I dodged that.”
“It’s insane,” she said of candid YouTube videos . “They’ll put a version of you singing at 3 AM on a ship, and they put it against the premiere recording [of that song]. Anybody can do anything, and put anything they want on there.”
McArdle has seen a great deal of changes in the performing arts industry over the years, especially in the role women play, both behind the scenes and onstage. Mentioning the “same 13 guys” who produced and ran everything in the Broadway community, McArdle described New York in the 70s as a “big boy’s club.”
“They did have a lot of females in higher positions; it wasn’t like it was long before that, but honestly, it’s so different now,” she said. “Women can do whatever they want to do, and probably do it better than a man.”
Mentioning the numerous female directors and head writers and composers who are employed on Broadway now, McArdle said, “There were no female composers on Broadway. Look at how that’s changed. That’s all changing, and happily.”
However, McArdle has only been directed by two women in her entire career of performing onstage.
McArdle had spent the previous day with with some fellow Broadway leading ladies, her fellow “4Girls4” co-stars Faith Prince, Maureen McGovern and Donna McKechnie. The quartet of stage veterans will tour together.
“We had a ball together,” McArdle said of her experience with the women (who have nicknamed Prince “Faith McPrince,” so she wouldn’t feel left out). “We laughed all day long.”
After spending the day with other veterans of the stage, McArdle reflected on some of her favorite roles, naming Sally Bowles from Cabaret and Belle from Beauty and the Beast as two of her favorites. McArdle, who played the role of Belle on Broadway for two consecutive years, thought she was being recruited for the role of Mrs. Potts when she received the phone call.
“It was really unexpected. It came out of nowhere,” she said of the offer. “I thought, ‘Are you sure? Really?’ It’s the longest I’ve ever done a show.”
McArdle’s daughter was attending school in Westchester while she performed in Beauty and the Beast, which proved to be a challenging schedule for the actress, who took her daughter to school every morning after performing a night show every night.
“Any time you have off, you want to give back to your family, because you’re away so much,” McArdle said of balancing motherhood and performing. “That’s why everyone at the theater becomes your extended family, because you see them so much more than you see your family.”
Balancing work and parenting can been difficult for actors, but changes have occurred backstage which have made being a parent offstage easier for performers, according to McArdle. “Years ago, it was different – nobody saw a baby backstage,” McArdle said. “When I was 13, I was the only kid around in everything I did, which seemed like a lot of my day. The only kids at any of these events. Now they’ll work with people and let a nanny be there, so a mother can be with her child for a 10 out of 12.”
Before the current revival of Annie opened on Broadway, McArdle met the young star, Lilla Crawford, and offered a few tips on how to handle the stardom, especially protecting her voice while talking to the press. McArdle’s own family has watched her career since she was a child and will be seeing her at 54 Below, have provided their own suggestions to the singer, including her mother, who McArdle said, “always says, ‘You’re not onstage, you’re so loud!’”