Club Review: “Andrea McArdle & Friends Celebrate the 45th ANNIEversary”

May 31, 2022 | By

Andrea McArdle made a glamorous entrance on to the stage at Feinstein’s/54 Below to a vamp from “Annie” (Charles Strouse, Thomas Meehan) wearing a voluptuously feathery black coat that put the “frill” in frilly. She doffed the coat within seconds, but she had achieved the effect she was after. Beneath the coat was a ravishingly sleek and simple classic black gown that made her look like the proverbial million bucks. In a ballsy move, she opened with a legit version of “New York, New York” (John Kander, Fred Ebb) with a great arrangement by her music director, Steve Marzullo, who happens to be one of my favorite composers and players in New York theatre and cabaret.  The arrangement, with echoes and shadows of Laura Nyro of all people, morphed into “NYC” (Strouse, Meehan) from Annie, the show that introduced her to most of us and whose 45th anniversary she was celebrating.  More to the point, she was also celebrating her 50th  year in in the theatre. She sounded great with that miraculously enduring voice and her open-hearted joy of performing.  

Andrea McArdle (Photo: Jim Gavin)

Next came “Broadway Baby” (Stephen Sondheim, from Follies) which took on an added dimension when sung by a woman who had, in fact, been an actual baby on Broadway. Then it was back to Annie with Miss Hannigan’s number, “Little Girls,” complete with a ringside table of squabbling “orphans” off whom she tried, unsuccessfully, to conjure the acid-tongued energy necessary for the number to work.  The squabbling orphans were her guest stars for the evening and, too soon, she brought them on one at a time to perform. She didn’t give herself a chance to establish herself before filling the stage with friends

First on was her Annie successor, Shelley Bruce. Together they sang “Maybe,” one of the big numbers from the show, but what might have been an attempt at being relaxed and congenial, came across as inept and under-rehearsed. Calling up another Annie alum, Donna Graham, McArdle and Bruce joined her for a throwaway version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” that bordered on embarrassing due to ill-conceived, under-rehearsed choreography that was meant, I suppose, to be cute, but three women of a certain age acting childishly on stage was a bad choice. How interesting it would have been to choose something like Sondheim’s “Who’s That Woman?” from Follies that would explore their feelings in 2022.  The three old friends talked…and talked…and talked, without structure, rhyme, or reason, as if they were at a Starbucks yakking over lattes. It was a literal waste of time, which is a precious commodity in a 60-minute cabaret show. Then the show was turned over outright to Graham’s daughter, Bridget, who bludgeoned her way through Jim Steinman’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” with a big voice and a small connection to the story or the phrasing. 

It took a while for things to get back on track but a medley of “The Theme from Ice Castles” (Marvin Hamlisch, Carole Bayer Sager) and “The Way We Were” (Hamlisch, Marilyn & Alan Bergman), cleverly introduced as songs McArdle had been forced to sing when she wasn’t old enough to understand them, solved the problem handily.  Her dynamics and her phrasing revealed a mature, exciting talent that deserved to be more fully realized in the show. Billy Joel’s “You’re My Home” gave further proof that she didn’t need to bury herself quite so deeply in nostalgia.

She kept talking about all the stories she had to tell and how funny and risqué they were, but she was more like the person at the party who starts a story that doesn’t go anywhere and takes too long to get there. It may be fun for her to reminisce, but the listener loses their interest long before the ending.  This happened again and again taking up time that could have spent singing.

The climax of the show was, of course, “Tomorrow” (Strouse, Meehan), and it was as rousing, and crowd-pleasing, and well sung as anyone could hope for. It was a star-turn by a bona fide star whose show at times seemed intent on hiding how brightly she still shines. With the incredible support of Marzullo on piano, and with her still remarkable vocals and charming personality, when Andrea McArdle was good, she was very, very good and made up for the irritating parts of the show that were not very good at all.  

***

Presented by Feinstein’s/54 Below on May 5, 6, and 7.

 

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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