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70s and Sunny: An Interview with Andrea McArdle

August 22nd, 2013

Contributor Heather Cassell rolls back the clock and looks toward the future with Broadway legend Andrea McArdle. 

Andrea McArdle's new CD, "70's and Sunny," was recorded live at 54 Below in New York City.

Andrea McArdle’s new CD, “70’s and Sunny,” was recorded live at 54 Below in New York City.

Broadway star and Tony-nominated actor and singer Andrea McArdle fell in love with music in her family’s Philadelphia home. She would tune her parents’ two stereos to her favorite stations and sing along to the decade’s greatest hits.

“We were somewhat music freaks, very eclectic taste. That’s what really gave me my love of music,” recalls McArdle, whose family didn’t have a television until she was 7-years-old.

Nearly 40 years later, McArdle is paying tribute to the music that shaped her childhood and Broadway career.

“These are all of the songs that really hit me so hard that made me want to sing,” says McArdle, 49, about the 14 songs that create  70’s and Sunny: Live At 54 BELOW, her new album from Broadway Records.

The CD was recorded at 54 BELOW (254 WEst 54th Street) in New York at the beginning of this year and released April 9. Its cover celebrating the 70s with its campy photo of McArdle sipping Tab with a straw out of the iconic can.

The lineup of songs includes her pop favorites from the 1970s, such as “Rainy Days and Mondays”, which was also the title of the first 45 record she bought when she was a kid, and her own Broadway hits, like “Tomorrow.”

McArdle, the original Annie on Broadway, modeled her famous song, “Tomorrow,” after 1970s pop stars.“I’ve always approached Broadway like a 70s male pop singer,” says McArdle, laughing.

That song she so famously belted as the little redheaded Depression-era orphan Annie has since become an American classic. It earned her a 1977 Tony Award nomination for a leading role in a musical. Annie also took her on the road to London where she launched the show’s West End production.

It was the first in a career of playing spunky, headstrong, independent women on and off Broadway that have been her trademark and taken her around the world. Since then she has played Mama Rose in Gypsy, Sally Bowles in Cabaret and Eva Peron in Evita , among others. There isn’t a moment she regrets. Her world was just as exciting as the music.

“It was fun taking a trip down memory lane,” McArdle tells The Broadway Blog. The music was “just poetry and art” recalling the writing that made 70s music, “just really great pop writing.”

“It was exactly what the 70s were. It was dirty and innocent compared to now, but I remember New York [being] really seedy, probably like a night in Bangkok,” she continues.

San Francisco audiences will get a chance to catch McArdle’s trip down the gritty streets of 70s New York through her personal soundtrack live Aug. 23 and 24 at Feinstein’s at the Nikko (222 Mason St., 415-394-1111).

Take the jump for an insider look at Andrea McArdle next recording project and a vintage clip from her performance in Annie.

Andrea McArdle

Andrea McArdle

Her next turn with Broadway Records is Calendar Dreams, which explores the trajectory of a year in a woman’s life. The title of the album is an anagram of McArdle’s name created by her friend Scott Logsdon. Each song represents a month and the final song an overview of the year. The 13 songs are being composed and written by some of Broadway’s top composers and writers today.

The album, which doesn’t have a release date yet, is based loosely on McArdle’s own experiences as a newly single mature woman. “These are my stories,” she says, turning back to talking about her youth. “This is my verbal journal.”

McArdle’s stories include playing dice backstage with the other actors as a kid, sitting with powerful women such as Cosmopolitan’s Helen Gurley Brown, her producer on Search for Tomorrow Mary-Ellis Bunim, former first lady Jackie Onassis, Ms. Magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem and journalist Barbara Walters; and how Michael Jackson showed up at her 14th birthday party.

“I was a child of the 70s,” says McArdle. “I remember seeing the influence of these women who were powerful.”

While her parents were very much the model of a 1950s nuclear family with her father who worked for Amtrak, stay-at-home mother, and younger brother, she says, “I was raised to go after my dreams.”

“I was known for being feisty and that is exactly why I got the role of Annie,” says McArdle, who never got the Barbie commercials, but the Band Aid and Brownie paper towel spots because she was a self-described rough and tumble kid.

Some of her favorite feisty roles are Belle in Beauty and the Beast, which she originally believed she was being called to audition for Mrs. Potts, she says. She was 37-years old at the time and ended up being Belle for two years. Her second favorite is Sally Bowles in Cabaret, but her favorite role to date hasn’t returned her to Broadway yet. She just completed a three-month run as Mame Dennis in Jerry Herman’s musical adaptation Mame of the 1955 best-selling novel Auntie Mame in her home state Pennsylvania.

The only other role that she’s coveting right now is Mrs. Nellie Lovett in Sweeney Todd, “I like dark musicals,” says McArdle.

To keep her vocal cords in tune and the feel of the stage beneath her feet, McArdle continues to focus on a career in musical theater as well as roles in plays, movies and television until she can return to her beloved musical Broadway.

You can catch McArdle in San Francisco this week for two special performances at Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko.
Tickets are $30 to $55>.

Heather Cassell is a freelance journalist and travel writer with more than 20 years experience covering LGBT and women’s issues. When Heather isn’t wandering off learning and writing about women’s and LGBT issues, she covers business, health and other news for a number of publications as well as the syndicated “Out in the World” international LGBT news column.

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