REVIEW: Andrea McArdle, 54 Below Broadway ✭✭✭✭✭

Ray Rackham reviews Andrea McArdle in Confessions of a Broadway Baby at 54 Below, Broadway.

Andrea McArdle
Confessions of a Broadway Baby
54 Below, Broadway
5 Stars
54 Below Website

What do you do when Little Orphan Annie tells you that she’s now a grandmother? Charting a life on the Broadway stage, and a lifetime away from that child actress turned star of the 1977 hit, Andrea McArdle proves how a great attitude, a joie de vivre, and an incredible voice can sustain not only an illustrious career but guarantee the love of an audience for almost five decades. Her latest show, Confessions of a Broadway Baby, which recently enjoyed a residency at Broadway’s supper club, 54 Below, was an absolute triumph!

Accompanied by Music Director Steve Marzullo on piano, McArdle opened the show with “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (from Annie Get Your Gun) and through a collection of beautifully poignant, wickedly funny stories, and gorgeously arranged songs, used the following 75 minutes to prove there really isn’t any business like it at all. Featuring an anecdote cast that included Sir Cameron Mackintosh (who gave the sage advice that any post-Annie can be an Eponine, but it takes a star to play Fantine), Carol Channing (who sagely advised McArdle to always be proud of her signature song), and Dorothy Loudon (who watched the young McArdle like a hawk in the original run of Annie), this was an evening celebrating the confessions of a performer who really has run the gamut, A to Z.

A devilishly naughty child star (McArdle openly confesses that her behaviour on Annie is the reason every child actor had a ‘Child Wrangler’ from 1977 onwards), a young adult on Broadway who had a lot to learn, to a forty-year-old playing a twenty-three-year-old (or as McArdle’s friends referred to her, “Belle as old as time”); McArdle takes the audience on a journey of self-discovery and unabashed honesty. She reminds us how well-versed she is in interpreting the roll call of genius Broadway composers in a unique and exciting way. As to the writers, every composer and lyricist – from Berlin to Sondheim, Herman to Kander and Ebb, Hamlisch and the Bergmans to Billy Joel – is represented in a set list that showcases McArdle’s exquisite vocal prowess; and never more is she at home, both on Broadway and with the assembled audience, than when singing Strouse and Charnin’s score for Annie. The segue from Kander and Ebb’s “New York, New York” to Annie’s “NYC” gave the rapt audience its first glimpse into the girl we fell in love and grew up with; and then “Maybe” reminded the audience why she became the break-out darling of Broadway. By the time McArdle wrapped herself around “Tomorrow”, she held the entire room in the palm of her hand and joyously reclaimed a Broadway that doesn’t exist anymore.

A delightful surprise was the nod to another child star, Judy Garland. With reference to the 1978 film, Rainbow, in which McArdle starred as the young Judy Garland (and under the adoring gaze of Lorna Luft – Ms Garland’s daughter – who was sitting in the audience at 54 Below) McArdle positively dazzled singing a collection of Garland’s early hits, including “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart”, “The Trolley Song”, and – of course – “Over the Rainbow” (which was Judy’s “Tomorrow”, before “Tomorrow” was “Tomorrow”). McArdle seemed genuinely touched by the rapturous applause, and Luft led a mid-show ovation. One beautiful moment in a collection of beautiful moments.

As McArdle skillfully reached the end of the show, she sang a Barbra Streisand classic, written by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman:

“Can it be that it was all so simple then,
Or has time rewritten every line?
And if we had the chance to do it all again,
Tell me, would we?”

Yes, Andrea. After the overwhelmingly beautiful evening, musically arranged by Marzullo; and with you at the helm; we would!

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