by Brian Scott Lipton
It may not be a news flash that Andrea McArdle is all grown up; all you need to do is basic math to realize that her star-making debut in the title role of the Broadway megahit “Annie” was 40 years ago. But what you may not know unless you see her smashing new cabaret show at Feinstein’s/54 Below is that while her winning smile and killer pipes have remained intact – if not grown — over the intervening decades, her self-deprecating humor and her willingness to connect with an audience is what truly makes her a must-see performer.
Indeed, these 90 minutes spent in her company, listening to a brilliantly chosen array of Broadway and film standards (and a welcome smattering of pop music), all accompanied by delicious, insidery stories of friends and former co-stars ranging from Carol Channing to Dorothy Loudon to Liberace, may turn out to be the best hour-and-a-half of your entire week.
She begins the evening with a slowed-down but still jazzy “A Lot of Living to Do” (from “Bye Bye Birdie”), but much of the show is dedicated to music McArdle has previously sung on Broadway — including four songs from “Annie” (including her so-called signature song “Tomorrow,” which she half-joked has been ruined by a certain heart drug commercial) and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s gorgeous “It Might As Well Be Spring” (from “State Fair”) – as well as in regional theaters and benefits.
With her pitch-perfect voice, and aided by pianist Steve Marzullo’s superb arrangements, McArdle beautifully captures the pathos of “Where Is Love” and “As Long as He Needs Me” (from “Oliver”), provides the necessary zing for Jerry Herman’s “Wherever He Ain’t” (from “Mack & Mabel”), soars to the skies on Stephen Schwartz’s tricky “Meadowlark” (from “The Baker’s Wife”), and — even having never done a Stephen Sondheim musical (yet) — does true justice to his “Broadway Baby” (from “Follies”) and “Everybody Says Don’t” (from “Anyone Can Whistle”). Moreover, having starred as a young Judy Garland in the 1978 television movie “Rainbow,” it’s hardly surprising how effortlessly she handles two of the singer’s most legendary hits: “The Trolley Song” and “Over the Rainbow.”
Yet, as much as I loved each of the aforementioned moments, I was particularly taken when McArdle made a too-brief foray late in her act into the pop music of our shared adolescence. (She is a mere three years younger than I am!) A medley of Blue Magic’s swoony “Sideshow” and Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen’s anthemic “Don’t Cry Out Loud” (first recorded by Allen but made famous by Melissa Manchester) proved to be a wonderful pairing. While an unconventional choice, Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man” deftly showed another side of her vocal personality. And best of all, Joel’s beautiful lesser-known ballad “You’re My Home” paired with the magnificent “Home” (from “The Wiz”) was my high point of the evening.
Shockingly, it’s been 17 years since McArdle was last on Broadway (as the “oldest” Belle ever in “Beauty and the Beast”). So to paraphrase a song from another of her Great White Way musicals, it is definitely time to bring her home!
Andrea McArdle continues at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street) on October 12, 13 and 14. Visit www.54below.com for tickets.