An interview with Andrea McArdle – an orphan no longer

Andrea McArdle  – On the road since 1977

Interview by Novelist Amy Shearn

Andrea McArdleAt the Wilmette Theatre, Sunday May 16th at 2:30pm, Chicago residents (and beyond) will have an opportunity that would make me – if I was still seven-years old – 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.

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]

"The Red Album"

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? 

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?

Liberace (photo from liberace.org)

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 )

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 roles…it’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”, Sunday, May 16th at 2:30pm 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 amyshearn.com.

NOTE: This interview is re-posted, with permission, from Ageless Northshore: http://ageless-northshore.com.

REVIEW: Wild Nights with Emily (Caffeine Theatre)

The dead lesbian’s poet society?

 

emily3

Caffeine Theatre presents:

 

Wild Nights with Emily

by Madeleine Olnek
directed by Meghan Beals McCarthy
at Lincoln Square Arts Center, 4754 N. Leavitt
through April 11th
(more info)

review by Catey Sullivan 

Emily Dickinson: Spinster virgin in perpetually buttoned-up white, or sensual lesbian lover who let loose after dark in wild nights entwined with her sister-in-law? Wild Nights With Emily would have us believe the latter. To those who would argue it’s Dickinson’s poetry and not her sexuality that matters, we’ll point out that the title of Caffeine Theatre’s roll in the literary hay is taken directly from the Belle of Amherst herself.

emily5 The lady love Dickinson pined for when penning “Might I but moor/ To-night/in thee?”. That would be Susan Dickinson, her brother’s wife. Or so it would according to Madeleine Olnek’s curious, quirky portrait of the poet as a lesbian lover. In Wild Nights, director Meghan Beals McCarthy instills Olnek’s time-tripping tale with the playfulness this 90-minute romp demands.

But while Caffeine’s literary production is as fun as flirting, it falters in one significant aspect, and that is in the person of Emily herself. Reciting passages of longing and frustration and ecstasy from Dickinson’s body of beautiful work, Jessica Bennett’s Emily is more slouching, angsty, over-dramatic adolescent than anguished mature woman.

According to firebrand (or lightning rod, depending on who you talk to) feminist scholar Camille Paglia, Dickinson’s brutality “would stop a truck.” You’d never know to watch this version of Emily. Here, the poet is skittish, fragile, birdlike and childlike in a portrayal that doesn’t hint at the strength within a lioness of arts and letters.

Yet despite that flaw – and since Dickinson is the focus of the piece, it is not inconsequential – Wild Nights is a winning endeavor. There’s a delicious humor to be found as cartoon academics peer down their weighty spectacles into pronouncements such as “We cannot say whether Emily Dickinson was gay any more than we can conjecture that Ben Franklin would have chosen a car with airbags.”

With her ensemble bending gender portraying Dickinson’s contemporaries as well as a parade of posthumous editors, biographers, and tourists (the last tramping through various Dickinson exhibits with amusing degrees of enthusiasm), McCarthy keeps the pace spritely and the visuals vivid.

Wild Nights is a crazy quilt of times and places, bouncing between imagined scenes from Dickinson’s life (and death) and contemporary declarations about the poet’s life. Liberal sprinklings of irreverence (including one memorable wherein an earnest speaker during Mount Holyoke Parents Weekend assures the assemblage that one or two or even three “homosexual” encounters does not a lesbian undergrad make) ensure that this pseudo-biography of Dickinson never gets fusty.

emily4 emily5

As Emily and Susan (Dana Black, hold that thought for just a moment please) rapturously discover oral sex, as Susan’s husband (Ian Novak) splutters angrily about insinuating secrets discovered folded among his wife’s “underthings,” as whist games play out and formal dances twirl about, the hidden life of Emily Dickinson unfurls as a colorful collage of eccentricity seemingly at odds with the deliberate, controlled beauty of her writing.

With the exception of Emily and Susan, McCarthy has the cast playing with the broadness of caricatures – which is wholly appropriate given the intermittent over-the-top bubbles of lunacy Olnek instills into many of her scenes. Novak, long one of the Off-Loop’s curiously unsung talents, makes great comic hay as prototypically saucy Irish maid and – more significantly – as Susie’s increasingly suspicious and snappish husband. As Emily’s biographer, Amanda Hartley is a primly outrageous, scissor-happy villainess.

Then there’s Susan, the most complex and intriguing person in this story thanks to Black’s deceptively gentle performance. She’s the quintessential still water running fathoms deep, richly contemplative one moment, smoothly calculating the next, head-over-heels-fall-down-crazy-in-love the next.

The core problem with the performance? It’s difficult to imagine this woman infatuated with the pretty but superficial snip we’re given as Dickinson.

Samantha Umstead and Alarie Hammock’s gorgeous and lavishly detailed costumes add a layer of lush visual beauty to the production and an intriguing contrast to the minimalist velvet drapes and framed poetry fragments of Stephen H. Carmody’s simple, effective set design.

The secret life of Emily Dickinson may forever remain just that. Even so, there’s intrigue in speculating what may have gone on between the lines.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

Wild Nights With Emily continues through April 11 in the Berry Methodist Church (Lincoln Square Arts Center), 4754 N. Leavitt. Tickets are $15 – $20. More information is available buy going to www.caffeinetheatre.com

emily2

Continue reading

REVIEW: AjaxAntigone (The State Theatre)

State Theatre brings guts and talent to successful production

Ajaxantigoneproductionstill1of11

The State Theatre presents:

AjaxAntigone

By Sophocles
Adapted by
Tim Speicher and Ross Matsuda
Directed by Tim Speicher
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont
through April 3rd
(more info)

review by Barry Eitel

The men and women that put together The State Theatre, a company that delivered their first ever production just last year, radiate ambition. It is ballsy choice for a brand new theatre company to tackle anything Greek—the Classics are some of the best-known dramas of all time, and they can really, really suck if done poorly. But as if Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" putting up just one millennia-old play wasn’t a big enough risk, adapter/artistic director Tim Speicher mashed-up two Sophoclean tragedies. With the straightforward title AjaxAntigone, Speicher’s amalgamation shreds up and stitches together SophoclesAjax and Antigone. With anything this daring there is bound to be hiccups and missteps, but the State’s bravado pays off and solidifies the company as a powerful new voice in Chicago theatre.

This isn’t some ancient version of those crossover episodes of CSI where one team travels to another’s city; Ajax never officially meets Antigone. Both stories are told concurrently, with a lot of thematic overlap. Antigone, if you recall, is one of the first obstinate teenagers in literature, disobeying the laws of the king in order to bury the body of her dishonored brother. Ajax is a more obscure play that revolves around the warrior Ajax, hero of the Trojan War. Basically, he slaughters some innocent livestock in a stroke of madness and then has to deal with the consequences. Speicher’s creation cuts, pastes, deletes and inserts from Sophocles. Never skimping on the physical, the State’s production plays out Ajax’s battle with the sheep, something that would never be shown in Mediterranean amphitheaters. Teiresias is cut from this Antigone. Also, Speicher’s version plays up Antigone’s story and plays down Creon. This is a sharp divergence from Sophocles’ play, where Creon is the real focus, not the titular teenager.

The grand Greek chorus is pared down to just one woman, the sparky Sarah Sapperstein, who does a majestic job of navigating us through both plays as well as portraying some of the smaller characters. Both plays are performed by an ensemble of six, with a lot of doubled-casting. Kyra Morris is a rich Antigone, stoic and proud—she makes the character a tragic hero. Chris Amos does double duty as Odysseus and Creon with charm and passion. Mark Umstatd’s shirtless Ajax overpowers the space with his yelling. This mars several scenes and draws the audience out of the play.

Ajaxantigoneproductionstill10of11 Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone"
Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" Ajaxantigoneproductionstill9of11

Speicher’s treatment of both plays is layered and lyrical, although there are missteps. African-American spirituals are used throughout, but they do nothing but distract from the stories on-stage. Kylie Edmonds’ costumes are appropriately distinguished, while the set is less complete. The scenic design consists of two mobile boxes that are used to create a myriad of environments among walls draped with white cloth. The abstraction is great, but the boxes beg more aesthetics and less functionality. And although Mbo Mtshali’s choreography is striking and spot-on much of the time, the production also has sloppy moments: actors get too close to the audience, and in one fit of madness, the barefoot Ajax accidentally stepped on the “blade” of his “sword” (made of wood). Forgivable offenses, but one has to think that they could be avoided, given the precision of the beautiful and demanding choreography.

The State’s audacity is evident in all aspects of the production. On opening night, they actually encouraged the audience to flip open their phones and tweet, text, snap, and update away (although I think Patti Lupone’s thoughts on the subject were still ingrained in most people’s heads). The State Theatre presents itself as bold, new, and edgy—AjaxAntigone proves that the company is good as well.

 

Rating: ★★★

Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone"

Extra Credit