Andrea McArdle’s unlikely leap from a spot on the Al Alberts Showcase to her Tony-nominated leading role in the first stage version of Annie is the stuff of local legends. In the late ’70s, it seemed as if that unmistakable voice was blaring from the stereo speakers of nearly every Delaware Valley home. A staunch supporter of theatrical excellence in our region, McArdle has spent more than 40 years singing and acting, most recently starring in Hello, Dolly! at the Media Theatre for the Performing Arts. We recently had the chance to chat with her about her passion and commitment to her craft.
MLT: Actresses who play Annie have to make the character their own. How do you reinvent roles made famous by other women?
AM: It can be a challenge at first. How can you think of Dolly and not think of Carol Channing or Barbara Streisand? There’s no way to copy them, so I don’t even try. I use their performances as inspiration and do a lot of research for the role. Then I do my own thing. You can’t worry about being as good as another actress, because every actress speaks, sings and moves differently.
MLT: Do you learn songs differently than you learn speaking lines?
AE: Yes. Learning a song for me is the easier thing—probably because I’m learning the lyrics with music and that makes it stick in my head. To learn lines, I need the scenes to be blocked. Once we’ve run through the scenes, the lines seem more natural to me because they’ve been given a context. But in both cases—lyrics and lines—it’s muscle memory and repetition. They say taxi drivers and actors have the best memories.
MLT: How do you take care of your voice?
AM: I wasn’t great at doing that because I didn’t have professional singing lessons—other than the $6 lessons I had when I was 12. I’m not good at warming up and I didn’t warm down, either. Thank goodness, I’ve never had any damage to my vocal chords. But, just this year, I started studying voice because I need to get another 25 years out of my chords. I’m enjoying learning how the muscles work and what I can do with my voice.
MLT: You’ve performed on TV, in cabarets on Broadway and in smaller theaters. Which is your favorite setting?
AM: Cabaret. In small locations, you’re very close to the audience. You have to be really on your game because the audience can see everything you do. It’s definitely a challenge; you need to be a seasoned performer to pull that off, and you cannot have any fear. It’s a challenge—and I love it.
MLT: Have you had time to explore Media during your temporary stays here?
AM: It’s an adorable area. There is a very strong sense of community there, and in a very laidback way. We went to quite a few restaurants: Stephen’s on State, Iron Hill, John’s Grille and Margaret Kuo’s. But I’ll tell you what, if it weren’t for the Wawa on the corner near the theatre, I don’t know how I would’ve survived.