Hello, Sally!


Legendary actress Sally Struthers takes the stage in the national tour of Hello, Dolly!

By Lauren Lockhart

 

“There’s a saying that I live with every day when I get up and hobble out of bed to the bathroom. The saying—it’s very short, you can needlepoint it on a pillow—is ‘You rest, you rust.’”

At 66 years old, acclaimed actress Sally Struthers has done anything but wind down her acting career. Now performing as the lead in the national touring production of the Broadway classic Hello, Dolly!, Struthers continues to fulfill her calling as a true entertainer. In the midst of her travels, Struthers took some time to speak with B-Metro about her experience with the show, which hits Birmingham’s BJCC stage December 6-8, 2013.

“I’m in dreamland I’m so happy,” says Struthers on touring with the Tony award-winning musical, a theatrical staple now celebrating its 50th anniversary. “Hollywood would want us women to believe that once we hit 40, we ought to just hang up our spurs. But to be 66 and the title character in a big American musical […] is probably something that won’t happen again for me in my career,” she pauses. “And that’s okay. The point is that it’s happening for me right now.”

Amongst a cast of 25 actors, dancers, and singers, Struthers takes the stage nationwide as Dolly Gallagher Levi, a tenacious matchmaker who, after helping others find love, unexpectedly finds it herself. But just as playing the role of Dolly comes naturally for Struthers (“I am Dolly Levi. I really am!” she laughs), so does the skill of live performance. She explains that even at a young age, she knew how to keep a crowd interested.

“In my kinder-college class, I climbed up on the desk to do the Pledge of Allegiance,” she chuckles. “And every time from then, whenever the teacher left the room, I’d get on my desk and sing and dance. The teacher would write notes on the back of my report cards to my mother saying ‘Mrs. Struthers, I really enjoy having Sally as a student, but could you tell her that it’s not her duty to entertain the kids whenever I leave the room?’”

Now, Struthers is proud to have made a career out of entertaining others and bringing joy to audiences across the globe. Long since the days of her one-girl grade school shows, Struthers has played iconic roles, most notably Gloria Stivic in All in the Family—for which she won two Emmys—and Babette in Gilmore Girls. And while many know Struthers for her on-screen characters, she lives for performing on stage.

“It’s my roots. Theatre is my roots,” she says. “Whenever I’ve been on a show, and the show goes on hiatus, I always go off and do a play or musical.”

Struthers now devotes her life to the theatre, and playing Dolly is one of her favorite roles; she is currently performing the role for the sixth time, but doing so on a seven-month tour is a whole new experience for this veteran actress. “It requires stamina, breathing freshness to it every night, and never letting it get stale,” she explains. “That’s a wonderful challenge, and we’re all up to that.”

It has been 12 years since she first played the role of Dolly, and Struthers explains that rather than let it go flat, the more familiar she becomes with the role, the more fun she has with it.

“There’s a difference in your life between the ages of 54 and 66,” she says. “I’m willing to do things at 66 that I probably wouldn’t have done at 54. I probably would have put the brakes on then, and now I just go for it!”

Struthers’ favorite number in the show to perform is “So Long, Dearie,” a feisty song she sings to Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy widower and Dolly’s latest matchmaking target. As the song progresses, the curtain drops, leaving Dolly in the spotlight. Says Struthers, “It’s just me and the audience and a cane and a hat. It’s done big, like I’m in a Vaudeville show.”

When asked why this number was her favorite to perform, Struthers lets out an enthusiastic roar: “Because it’s sassy! And my initials spell ‘sass.’ Sally Ann Struthers…SAS!”

From Dolly’s vivacious personality, to the stunning period costumes, to that iconic moment when Dolly descends the stairs as the company sings the title song “Hello, Dolly!”, this musical epitomizes the timeless Broadway production by which all others are measured. It is the kind of production that rekindles that old theatrical magic for lifelong fans and ignites an appreciation for theatre in new audiences.

Says Struthers, “This is a gorgeous production, and it hasn’t been out on tour for 20 years since Carol Channing did it. This is the chance to see it in its true, original form.”

Beyond the theatrics of beautiful costuming, sets, and music lies a sincere storyline that Struthers says audiences cannot help but connect with.

“The audience gets to see matches being made,” she says. “They get to see people fall in love. Everybody wants that in their own life. They’ve either had it once or twice, or they’ve never had it and hope for it, or they’re in the middle of it.”

As for Struthers, she has found her one true love in performing in front of a live audience. For her, seeing the smiles, hearing the laughs, and feeling the thunder of applause at the end of each show brings true purpose to her lifelong love of acting. Struthers is proud to be performing one of the biggest and busiest roles of her acting career at this time in her life, and she has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“My friend Brenda Vaccaro, who is a wonderful actress, once said to me, ‘Doll, you gotta keep moving—it creates a breeze!’ So I’m out here creating a mighty wind.”

 

Hello, Dolly! will be performed at the BJCC Concert Hall from December 6-8. To purchase tickets, visit Broadway in Birmingham’s website at http://bit.ly/hellodolly_bham

One Response to “Hello, Sally!”

  1. Charlene Lockhart says:

    I love you Lauren. Nana

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