PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Andrea McArdle

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Andrea McArdle Andrea McArdle is probably the closest thing there is to the sweetheart of the American musical theatre: The brassy belter was 12 when she introduced "Tomorrow" and launched the showbiz dreams of a million little girls in Annie in 1977. She went on to perform in Starlight Express, Les Miserables, Jerry's Girls and, most recently on Broadway, State Fair, the stage version of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein film. In it, she played the calico-friendly girl-next-door who sang "It Might as Well Be Spring." Now, at 35, McArdle is the latest Belle of Broadway's Beauty and the Beast. She talked to Playbill On-Line about being a little girl -- and having a little girl -- in the wings.

Andrea McArdle is probably the closest thing there is to the sweetheart of the American musical theatre: The brassy belter was 12 when she introduced "Tomorrow" and launched the showbiz dreams of a million little girls in Annie in 1977. She went on to perform in Starlight Express, Les Miserables, Jerry's Girls and, most recently on Broadway, State Fair, the stage version of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein film. In it, she played the calico-friendly girl-next-door who sang "It Might as Well Be Spring." Now, at 35, McArdle is the latest Belle of Broadway's Beauty and the Beast. She talked to Playbill On-Line about being a little girl -- and having a little girl -- in the wings.

Playbill On-Line: You've been associated with family-friendly shows, Annie, State Fair, Starlight Express and now Beauty and the Beast. Does being a mom to 10-year-old Alexis influence your work decisions? I can't see Andrea McArdle playing a hooker in The Life, for example.
Andrea McArdle: Oh, really? Oh my God! When she was very small, and first became aware, I played Evita and she fell in love with that show. She knows it's pretend. She used to be in the playground trying to get the kids to do the chain gang (song) from Les Miz.

PBOL: And, eventually, she was in Les Miserables, too.
AM: She fell in love with Les Miz. She always enjoyed being backstage. That's what a lot of kids fall in love with -- the backstage -- because that's where it's so much fun: Everybody's colorful and everybody's friendly, and it's like an extended family. But she truly fell in love with Les Miz. She was four and five years old and sat through that show. And she said, "When I'm older I want to play Cosette." When she was seven, we called (the resident director). She had to audition six times. We definitely got her in the door, but she certainly kept herself there.

PBOL: And you were Fantine on Broadway and Eponine in the tour.
AM: Eponine is what I was dying to play. I thought it was a perfect marriage when I played Eponine. I don't like belters playing Fantine, and I never understood that. I like a lighter quality [for her].

PBOL: Does Alexis have the voice you had as a kid?
AM: She sure does. When she wants to, and she usually doesn't want to, she sounds very reminiscent of what I sounded like. She's got such a cool voice, because it's prettier. It's influenced by different people: She likes everyone from Alanis Morissette to Rodgers and Hammerstein. But they don't need to belt the way they used to. The reason I got the job [in Annie] is we had no microphones. PBOL: No body mikes?
AM: No. That's why I got the job. I think ours was one of the last shows.

PBOL: Did you take vocal lessons?
AM: I never really did. My voice is natural and has had very little training. I had a great coach in Philadelphia, who ended up teaching every Annie. He had six guitar students when I went to him, and now the poor guy will forever teach children Annie.

PBOL: Does Alexis want a stage career?
AM: If she had her way, she'd be performing 365 days a year. We opened up a can of worms with Les Miz. We're trying to keep a lid on it. She gets it from both sides: From my husband, Edd Kalehoff, who's a successful composer and producer.

PBOL: A lot of people think your career started with Annie.
AM: Yeah. I love the theatre, but I started in TV before that. I did a soap opera ("Search for Tomorrow") for three years, and I did 50 commercials, and I did "Welcome Back, Kotter," and a couple of sitcoms. I used to get fan mail from the Alvin Theatre addressed to my soap character. I was a freshman in high school when I did Annie, people don't realize that. I was 12, 13 and 14. When I left, I was ready to go.

PBOL: Is there something you couldn't wait to get off your resume?
AM: No, not really. I have many things that I am proud of. Some of the work I am most proud of, most people didn't see. I've learned more from the shows that were horrible than the shows that were great.

PBOL: Do you remember the first time you went to the theatre?
AM: Uh-huh. I saw Debbie Reynolds in Irene and I went back stage and got to meet her, and I was like, "Oh yeah!" I was in New York, I was filming a commercial. [After the show] I couldn't go to sleep and I was so cranky the next day.

PBOL: What's coming up for you?
AM: I'm hoping Annie Get Your Gun'll be around. That's what I've got my sites on next.

PBOL: You wanna take over for another great belter, Bernadette Peters?
AM: Well, don't we all?

PBOL: Barry and Fran Weissler, are you listening? Picture the headline: "Annie to Play Annie!"

-- By Kenneth Jones