News Column

Sally Struthers is on the road with 'Hello, Dolly!'

November 14, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 14--GREENSBORO -- Hello, Sally!

Emmy Award-winning actress Sally Struthers has called from Ontario, Canada, where the touring production of the musical "Hello, Dolly!" has made a stop for two shows.

The pace can be grueling for the 50-member cast and crew. They often will perform in a different town almost every night for more than five months.

But Struthers, known for her television roles on "All in the Family" and "Gilmore Girls," relishes playing Dolly in this 50th anniversary tour of the Broadway musical.

"This allows me to be a dramatic actress, a comedic actress, a singer, a clown and a dancer, to wear gorgeous costumes and to be surrounded with a company of people forcing me to be my best because they are so great," Struthers said.

On Sunday, "Hello, Dolly!" comes to War Memorial Auditorium for a 7 p.m. performance as part of the Triad Best of Broadway series.

January will mark 50 years since the Jerry Herman musical -- based on Thornton Wilder's play "The Matchmaker" -- made its Broadway debut and swept the Tony Awards. It gave Carol Channing her signature role as Dolly Gallagher Levi, the strong-willed, widowed matchmaker.

Other famous actresses went on to fill the Broadway role -- Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Ethel Merman. Barbra Streisand played Dolly on film.

Struthers had played Dolly five times in regional theater. But not since Channing took "Hello, Dolly!" on the road 20 years ago has there been a national tour.

"When Jerry Herman said, 'Yes, Sally Struthers can take this show out,' ... that was like St. Peter telling you, you can come into heaven," Struthers said.

The part puts her in high-button shoes and fancy costumes at the turn of the 20th century in New York.

She iss supposed to find a mate for grumpy "half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder (played by John O'Creagh). But it becomes clear that she wants to marry Horace herself.

Adventures ensue as she works her matchmaking talents on others and tries to make the most important match -- her own.

Among its famous tunes are "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "It Only Takes a Moment," "Before the Parade Passes By" and, of course, its title song.

Struthers, 66, calls Dolly "a dream role" for experienced, older actresses. "It can be played by a woman from 45 up to 85. It can be played by a black woman, a white woman," she said.

The musical's message comes from one of Dolly's songs -- to not let the parade of life pass you by.

"You can get out of your rut, you can meet new people, you can find another person to fall in love with," Struthers said.

Reviews have complimented her experience and her sense of comedy.

"Struthers is no stranger to this role, and her experience shows," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said.

Struthers' acting experience dates to the 1970s, when she appeared in the film "Five Easy Pieces" and on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and "The Tim Conway Comedy Hour."

She earned stardom and two Emmy Awards playing Gloria, daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker, on "All in the Family."

Carroll O'Connor starred as Archie, Jean Stapleton as Edith and Rob Reiner as Gloria's liberal and outspoken husband, who often clashed with the bigoted but lovable Archie.

The show broke ground in depiction of issues such as racism, homosexuality, women's liberation and the Vietnam War.

"I was much too young to completely take in or appreciate just what a change it made to the face of television," Struthers said. "I am sure it was years later before I could look back and make any sense of it. ... It was the best acting school in the world to be around such great people."

It opened doors to TV series "Gloria," "9 to 5" and "Gilmore Girls," the latter playing neighbor Babette Dell.

She became such a familiar face that people still hug her when she's out buying groceries or gasoline.

"I have been in their kitchen; I have been in their bedroom," she said.

She also garnered a long list of stage credits, including the female version of "The Odd Couple," "Grease" and "Annie" on Broadway and, of course, "Hello, Dolly!"

"Since I began, I have never stopped working steadily," Struthers said. "I know how unbelievably fortunate I am."

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at (336) 373-5204, and follow @dawndkane on Twitter.

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(c)2013 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

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