ON THE ROAD
Outside of her roles in television and theatre, Sally Struthers is probably best known for her volunteer work as a spokesperson for Save the Children, a charitable organization. It's ironic then that the bubbly blond should now be playing nasty Miss Hannigan, the tippling orphanage matron who yearns "to step on the curls of little girls" in the successful touring production of Annie. During the month of May, the musical revival plays engagements in Costa Mesa, California; Dallas, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"I don't play her too villainously," says Struthers with a giggle, evoking the image of Gloria Stivic, Archie's mousy, lovable daughter in the hit TV series "All in the Family," which made her a pop icon of the seventies. "I play her very neurotic, as someone who's just been in the orphanage too long. She's not very scary -- she's a little girl herself, sticking out her tongue, stomping her feet, wiggling her finger. I'm having such fun with her."
The actress says that she lobbied and campaigned hard for the role she's longed to play since she saw Dorothy Loudon create it in the original 1977 Broadway production. "She was so delicious, and it was such a wonderful musical -- a perfectly built piece of theatre -- that when the opportunity came up, I just went at the producers full force. I hit them with everything I had."
Though she gained fame on television, the Oregon-born Struthers always had her heart set on a stage career, having attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts. She belatedly made her Broadway debut in 1981 opposite James Coco in the Wally's Café, which she followed up with a stint in an all-female version of The Odd Couple with Rita Moreno and Brenda Vaccaro. Most recently, she played Miss Lynch in the Tommy Tune revival of Grease! both on the road and on Broadway. And, she also created the role of Elsa Maxwell in Only a Kingdom, a musical about the abdication of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, which tried out in the South and which she hopes will eventually make it to New York.
Struthers says that she rather enjoys life on the road, though she does miss the dog and two cats she has left behind at her Los Angeles home in the care of two of her Grease! colleagues. (Divorced, she is the proud mother of a young lady who is in her first year at Vassar.) "I pride myself on my road lifestyle," she says. "I've pared it down to one suitcase and a huge sign that says, 'I do not need maid service. Do NOT come in!'"
Conceding that it might well be W.C. Fields's idea of fresh hell, the actress says that she is delighted to be traveling with eight little girls and four dogs. In fact, she adds, "I'm planning a sleepover for four of them tonight in the my hotel room. They alternate. I order late-night room service, I get an easel and paints, we play Pictionary and watch late movies and tell ghost stories. I'm in nirvana."
-- By Patrick Pacheco