Andrea McArdle’s life forever changed when she was just 13 years old, after she was given the chance to take on one of the most iconic roles in Broadway history.
The child actress was swept away to replace Kristen Vigard, a girl who was slated to take on the title character in the 1977 original production of “Annie.” McArdle, who was expecting to be just another voice in the orphan chorus, was given the starring role.
“At the time I was barely in the business and I got very lucky very soon,” the now-54-year-old revealed on the podcast "Children of Song."
“My mom saw an ad in the trade papers saying [they] were looking for kids for this musical, ‘Little Orphan Annie,'" she added. "It turns out I was the first kid they ever saw for the show. And I’ve since found out I was the first kid hired... I was hired at the time to play the toughest orphan.”
“Annie,” based on the beloved Harold Gray comic strip, tells the story of a spunky dreamer whose marinara-hued curls were as bold as her voice. While McArdle described herself as “abnormally small and short,” her powerful pipes easy melted the hearts of anyone who heard them for the first time.
In fact, that’s how McArdle received an unlikely job promotion to play the very first Annie on stage.
“We would have 17 or 30 pages of rewrites in a day,” she said. "We knew everybody’s part. And that’s kind of how they heard me sing alone because we were playing… by the orchestra pit… We would switch around and we knew everybody’s parts… They heard me singing down there.”
Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, who was dating director-lyricist Martin Charnin at the time, was shocked by what she encountered.
“She heard me sing and she was like, 'This kid’s got this crazy voice!'” said McArdle.
The producers themselves heard McArdle’s voice and she soon replaced Vigard, a move the star called “a happy accident.”
However, McArdle insisted there was zero rivalry to be found between the pair. In fact, Vigard would go on to become McArdle’s understudy on Broadway before embarking on her own successful stage career.
“There was never [a sense of rivalry],” she explained about her former cast-mates. “You’re so lucky to have kids around you when you’re working with a bunch of adults and you’re young. To have a posse like that, you know, it’s like a constant slumber party - it really is [a] fantasy world. And we’re still close.”
As for McArdle, she continues to impress audiences with her voice as a performer — and is all too willing to surprise new, curious listeners today.
“I get so excited when my mic goes out,” said McArdle. “Let me show you how it’s done."
Listen to Andrea McArdle's entire "Children of Song" episode. You can download or stream the podcast from the Children of Song homepage or become a subscriber on the Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Google Player or Stitcher.