The Stars of Annie Share Backstage Stories From Broadway and Beyond

Happy Pride Month! And we must first welcome June with the classic Leslie Uggams “June is Busting Out All Over” performance. If you don’t know, there is a video where Leslie sings completely nonsense lyrics and it is hilarious. Everyone on Broadway knows about it and, as a matter of fact, during Putting It Together (the Sondheim review with Carol Burnett), Ruthie Henshall told me that people always messed up the complicated Sondheim lyrics and whoever messed up the worst for the week would get the “June” Award. Here is the video with the nonsense lyrics written out. And here is her explanation for what happened all those years ago, which she told during my talk show Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox!. It’s the epitome of “the show must go on!”

I’m very happy to say that Stars in the House has now raised $945,000 for The Actors Fund and we think we’re going to get to $1,000,000 this month. We recently had a reunion of Annie with Andrea McArdle, the orphans, and Sasha Charnin (lyricist Martin Charnin’s daughter). All the kids—now adults—remember having to audition with the song “Happy Birthday,” even if they had their own song. Andrea found out later that she had been the first kid to try out; she was doing her regular role in Search For Tomorrow and went during her lunch break. She sang “Johnny One Note” and, because she had a fancy soap opera hairdo, Mr. Charnin (who passed away in 2019) then wanted to see what she would look like as a regular kid so he unpinned Search For Tomorrow updo and mussed up her hair.

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Andrea McArdle in the original Broadway production of Annie Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

When Andrea got back to set, she got in a ton of trouble. She also happened to be the ringleader in hijinks for the rest of the kids. She remembers when they were doing the show at the Goodspeed Opera House, they were performing during Hurricane Belle, and the high winds knocked a tree through the roof of the house they were staying in. They had to move into a hotel and Andrea convinced the other kids to join her in putting something in the hotel pool: bubble bath! Another time, Andrea wanted to get a tan but her contract stipulated she couldn’t go in the sun. Read the full story in my column from April.

Andrea always had a big heart, too. She told us about the time they asked her to sing on a TV special with Mr. Charnin and Charles Strouse. She called Martin and said that there had been four Annie’s at that point and they should all make an appearance and sing one of the Annie songs. Andrea’s main reason for doing that was the original Kate, Shelley Bruce (who eventually took over the title role), had recently been released from the hospital after being treated for leukemia.

Andrea knew that Shelly needed a chance to sing again to lift her spirits and prove to herself she could do it. Shelly told us that she was terrified: she had worn the curly Annie wig eight shows a week, but it also served as a cover because she had lost her hair due to chemo. Also, the treatments left her weak, especially in the diaphragm and she didn’t know if she’d have the strength to sing. But Andrea knew Shelley had to “get back on the horse” as they say. Turns out, even though she was nervous (which didn’t show at all), Shelly sounded fantastic—and so did Allison Smith, Andrea, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Watch it here.

The first four Broadway Annies: Andrea McArdle, Shelley Bruce, Sarah Jessica Parker and Allison Smith
The first four Broadway Annies: Andrea McArdle, Shelley Bruce, Sarah Jessica Parker and Allison Smith

Speaking of Sarah, she remembers seeing the show as an audience member and being completely captivated. Her Dad could tell she was fantasizing about being in it but he warned her that she “wasn’t Annie material.” Cut to: she was cast as a swing, then Kate, and then Annie! She certainly was Annie material: here she is doing “Tomorrow.”

Andrea also remembered the time she was asked to sing on the Tony Awards, a few years after she left Annie. First she said “no” because the show wanted her to wear her original costume. She told Mr. Charnin that she was a girl when she wore it and now that she was a young woman, it would be too weird. She had them make an adult version of her costume and then she agreed. The Tony Awards were scheduled for the night after her high school graduation and there was going to be a huge after-party. After much deliberation, she decided to skip it and go to bed early. When she got to the Tony Awards the next day and saw the parade of stars who were going to be in the audience watching as well as the other women in her segment (Priscilla Lopez, Nell Carter, Angela Lansbury, and Patti LuPone) she was very glad she had stayed home and didn’t trash her voice. I’m so thankful because I love watching it and she sounds amazing.

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Dorothy Loudon Martha Swope

Because Andrea (and the other girls) were always sitting around playing Jacks quietly, she remembers overhearing conversations at Goodspeed Opera House when the show was first being created. She recalled Dorothy Loudon begging for a great song. Dorothy was sick of being a great performer in a flop, which had been a trend before Annie. She knew the show needed another great number to lift it and that’s when they wrote “Easy Street” for her. Add to it the performances of Bob Fitch and Barbara Erwin, plus the amazing and hilarious Peter Gennaro choreography, and it brought down the house!

Robyn Finn, who played Pepper, told us a great story about Gennaro. Born with very bad knees, it was assumed Robyn wouldn’t ever walk. Well, after numerous operations, she finally started walking comfortably when she was 11, right before Annie. Cut to: the kids were learning the choreography to “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” and all the orphans ended it by doing a step that took them down to their knees then up again, numerous times. At the end of the day, Robyn was in a lot of pain and told her mother that if she continued doing that step, she’d have difficulty walking again… and all the advances she got from her operations would be reversed. Her mother went to Peter with trepidation and told him that Robyn wouldn’t be able to do the step. Robyn was devastated and assumed she would be fired. Instead, Peter changed the choreo and made the step a solo for Molly, the youngest orphan. Turns out, it made the number have an incredible finish. Robyn is so thankful to this day! Here is the number to show how great it worked. And don’t forget, Annie is going to be the next live musical on NBC this December!

This coming Sunday, I’m continuing The Seth Concert Series (which is live!) with Alex Newell from the Broadway revival of Once On This Island and Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist on NBC. His voice is so unique and brilliant—the range is shocking. Here he is years ago and he still sounds the same! See us this Sunday (at 3 or 8 PM ET) by getting tix at TheSethConcertSeries.com. Peace out!