STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
The life-loving woman at the center of “Hello, Dolly!” is “still glowin’… still crowin’… still goin’ strong,” says the well-known song of the same name. And so is Andrea McArdle. The actress, who was the original “Annie” on Broadway in 1977, has never stopped singing, dancing, and acting. The next stop in her musical journey – she’s starring as Dolly in The Media Theatre’s production of the classic musical April 22 through May 24.
In addition to the world’s most famous orphan, McArdle has played some of the most well-loved stage roles – Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” Fantine in “Les Miserables,” Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.” She even played orphan wrangler Miss Hannigan in “Annie” a few years ago, bringing her youthful experience full circle.
Now, she’s tackling the role made famous by Carol Channing and portrayed by other greats, like Barbra Streisand. McArdle has that on her mind.
“It’s so difficult after an icon like Carol Channing put her mark on the role,” she said. “It’s hard for me to get Carol out of my head, but I’m working extra hard. What worked for her would work for no one else. I’m trying to finding out who Dolly is for me.”
During the rehearsal process, McArdle said she found similarities between herself and the character.
“She’s different in public and different in her inner monologue,” she said. “She loves art and culture, all of the fun things in life.”
McArdle didn’t know her character well before beginning the rehearsal process, but she knew she loved the music. McArdle and company will sing Broadway legend Jerry Herman classics, like “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Takes a Woman,” and the title song that most people recognize.
“It’s one of the most perfectly written shows,” she said. “I’m a sucker for Jerry Herman’s music.”
And though there’s much to memorize, and the days can be long, she loves rehearsal.
“You can’t be in theater unless you love the process,” she said. “I still love every aspect of it.”
She even did as a kid. McArdle remembers her time with “Annie” as a “perfect experience.” And even though she was a Broadway performer in a hit show, her life at home didn’t change. She was a Broadway performer who still had to make her bed.
“I was blessed with incredible parents,” she said. “We lived in the same house I was born in. They put no pressure on me.”
Her parents loved music and that’s how she came to love it so much, she said – her father liked jazz, opera, and big bands, and her mom liked pop and Broadway. As a kid filled with energy, McArdle channeled it first through gymnastics, then through performing. She auditioned for her first commercial (for Cheerios). She didn’t get it, but not long after, she ended up working on the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow,” which she said prepared her for her breakout Broadway performance.
“I couldn’t have done ‘Annie,’ with 17 pages of rewrites a day, without the soap. People don’t know how grueling they can be,” she said. “You do in a day what a sitcom does in a week. It was incredible training.”
And now that training, along with her love of music, theater, and performing, has taken her to stages across the country and around the world. She wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not always easy, but theater is a constant in her life that she’s grateful for.
“No matter how lousy your life is going, it’s the best medicine,” she said. “That’s why we work so hard for so little money. But kind of like Dolly, we’re not going to get rich, but we’re going to have a rich life.”
As McArdle gets older, she’s looking forward to hopefully tackling more classic roles.
“I would love to do Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and Mrs. Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd.’ That’s the nice thing about theater – the best roles for women are written for women over 50,” she said. “I’m glad I stuck around.”
And she’s happy to be returning to the area for this show. She was born in Philadelphia and performed in “Mame” at The Media Theatre, for which she won Best Actress in a Musical honors from Broadway World/Philadelphia in 2013. She has a lot of family here, too.
“I’m glad to be back here,” she said. “It feels like coming home.”
Looks like McArdle, like Dolly, is back where she belongs.
IF YOU GO
What: “Hello, Dolly!” starring Andrea McArdle
When: April 22 through May 24 (McArdle will not be performing May 1, 2, or 3.)
Where: The Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media, PA
Tickets: $42; discounts for seniors and children.
Info.: Call (610) 891-0100 or visit http://www.mediatheatre.org/