Although many think of Andrea McArdle as being the first Annie in the hit musical by that same name, the fact is McArdle was an afterthought. Originally cast as Pepper, McArdle replaced the original Annie, Kristen Vigard, during the second week of the pre-Broadway run at the Goodspeed Opera House in August 1976. When Annie opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on April 21, 1977, McArdle was in the lead role and Vigard was her understudy.
For the next decade, McArdle would influence an entire generation of kids who would sing the Annie anthem “Tomorrow” in a heightened nasal tone. And although she’s gone on to play many other roles on Broadway, on TV and in film and has also had a successful career as a cabaret singer, McArde\le will forever be remembered for her portrayal of the little orphan girl with a whole lot of spunk, Annie.
What got McArdle the role of Annie was something very specific to her look and manner. The producers felt that Vigard was playing Annie too sweetly. They needed someone who could be tougher and more street-smart. They thought that McArdle had the right stuff to add that dimension to the title character. After all, she did have to outfox Miss Hannigan, trick the police, charm the president and win over the rough and gruff Daddy Warbucks. McArdle, who had a great voice for the role, also had the acting chops to pull off the role. She was helped by her look, which included piercing eyes that helped create the quality the producers wanted.
McArdle as Annie a Winner
McArdle’s Annie helped to make the show an instant success. Her ability to switch from being sweet to bold, from being vulnerable to strong and from being overwhelmed to totally in control was endearing. It was easy for audiences to accept that this girl could break down the emotional wall that Daddy Warbucks built to keep himself isolated.
Plus, McArdle could sell a song. She possessed a big voice that was nuanced so that she could sing “Maybe” with absolute solemnity, “Tomorrow” with verve and “I Don’t Need Anything But You” with absolute joy.
McArdle was nominated for a Tony as Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Musical but lost to co-star Dorothy Loudon who played Miss Hannigan. McArdle did receive the Theater World and Outer Critics’ Circle Awards for her performance. She appeared numerous times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Cason and on the Mike Douglas Show and opened as Annie in the West End production in London.
One of the most difficult things for any child actor to deal with is a lack of success after their run is over. A child may possess amazing talents that diminish or simply don’t develop future as they age. Once they’re no longer the cute kid, once they grow up, audiences turn indifferent to them. But McArdle isn’t one of those performers. She continued to develop her abilities, refined her technique as a singer and actress and developed into an accomplished adult actor and singer. What the producers saw in her that made her right for Annie was also partly what has made her someone who could endure in one of the toughest businesses around- show business.
Annie is presently enjoying a healthy Broadway revival at the Palace Theatre with Lilla Crawford as Annie. Crawford has been in the show since it previewed on October 3, 2012. The revival opened on November 8, 2012, garnering a host of positive reviews.