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Published: Wednesday, 10/16/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

PEACH WEEKENDER

Sally Struthers: From one American classic to another

‘All in the Family’ star headlines ‘Hello, Dolly!’ theater run at the Stranahan

BY SUE BRICKEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sally Struthers, center in red dress, and her castmates perform a number from 'Hello, Dolly!'. Sally Struthers, center in red dress, and her castmates perform a number from 'Hello, Dolly!'.
THEATHER LEAGUE Enlarge

Sally Struthers looks good in red.

That will be apparent when audiences see her as Dolly Gallagher Levi in a song near the top of Act Two in the 50th Anniversary Tour of Hello, Dolly!, opening Oct. 24 at the Stranahan Theater. One of Struthers' favorites in this classic of the American theater is that title song, "Hello, Dolly."

"All these darling handsome young men dressed as waiters at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant are singing to me as I come down the stairway, and I'm in a gorgeous red dress and feather headdress,'' she said in a phone interview.

Struthers won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Gloria Stivic, the liberal daughter of the bigoted Archie Bunker in TV's groundbreaking series All In the Family, which ran from 1971 to 1979. So when she walks onto the Stranahan stage, how long will it take audiences to see Dolly and not Gloria?

It won't be an issue, Struthers said. Hello, Dolly! is not a piece of contemporary theater. It is set in 1897, with turn-of-the century costumes and sets. And besides, while many of us might know her as Gloria, "a younger generation only sees me as Babette" her character in the Gilmore Girls, she said. "So if a mother and daughter are walking down the street, the mother would say, 'Look, there's Gloria,' but the daughter would say, 'No, it's Babette.'"

Hello, Dolly!, with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart, opened on Broadway in 1964 and won 10 Tony Awards, including best musical. It became an enduring smash, with several revivals, and was made into a hit 1969 movie staring Barbra Streisand. The plot follows the exploits of the resourceful New York City matchmaker Dolly Levi as she tries to find a wife for the rich but grumpy Horace Vandergelder of Yonkers, N.Y.

In addition to the title tune, enduring hit songs include "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," "It Only Takes a Moment," and "Before the Parade Passes By," but Struthers says her sassiest number is "So Long Dearie," near the end of Act 2, when Vandergelder is taken to jail. "I come to the jail and sing a very vaudevillian song, and I get to do it with a cane and straw hat, and it's just really fun."

The tour, which includes 70 cities, could be considered something of an endurance exercise.

"It's not for the faint of heart," she said. "You prepare. Take care of yourself, get enough sleep, rest your voice, and save your energy for the stage, because people pay good money to come see a show and you want them to get more than their money's worth. You've got to be very disciplined."

But, she added, "I believe everyone should be exposed to theater ... and when there's a classic like Hello, Dolly!, you should take someone who hasn't seen theater before — take your grandchildren or your niece and nephew and come out and see a perfect piece of American classic theater, something you'll be talking about for years, and the songs you'll be humming [along]."

The show has eight speaking roles and 26 people on stage. The production features John O'Creagh as Horace Vandergelder, Matt Wolfe as Cornelius Hackl, Lauren Blackman as Irene Molloy, Garett Hawe as Barnaby Tucker, Halle Morse as Minnie Fay, Brad Frenette as Ambrose Kemper, and Hilary Fingerman as Ermengarde.

Struthers has a long and varied resume that includes the TV series 9 to 5 and her own show, Gloria; voicing Pebbles Flintstone on the Pebbles and Bam-Bam cartoon series, and TV movies, including Intimate Strangers, And Your Name is Jonah, and The Great Houdinis. Her films include Five Easy Pieces (1970) with Jack Nicholson, and The Getaway (1972) with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw.

Sally Struthers Sally Struthers
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Her philosophy of life can be summed up in one word: kindness. "Remembering to be kind, choosing to be kind, erring on the side of kindness. Finding something lovely to say about another human being and keeping your mouth shut if you can't think of anything."

She has two joys, her daughter Sam (a clinical psychologist) and her "darling Scottish terrier," Bob.

Struthers has made her living doing comedy, but when it comes to TV her favorite shows are the dramas. She doesn't think there is any single successor to All In the Family.

"I think in some ways, everything on TV right now exists because All In the Family broke down so many barriers. We were the first people that portrayed the bad side of human nature, and people flushing the toilet, and not having proper table manners, and arguing, and interracial things and talking about being gay ... it hadn't happened before. Television families had lived before in sweet little bubbles, and we made human beings appear with all their foibles, and in that way we were the precursor to everything you see now."

Touring doesn't give her time to watch a lot of television, but, she said, "I love Breaking Bad, watched every episode, and was intrigued by how insane it was, it was delicious. And I love The Good Wife, and I love Boardwalk Empire, and Scandal."

Performances of Hello, Dolly!, a Theater League presentation, are Oct. 24, 8 p.m.; Oct. 25, 8; Oct. 26, 2 and 8; Oct. 27, 2 and 7. Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets are $28 to $68, available online at theaterleague.com, at the Stranahan Theater box office, or by calling 419-381-8851. The box office is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Groups of 10 or more call 1-866-314-7687.

Contact Sue Brickey at sbrickey@theblade.com.



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