PORTSMOUTH — Sally Struthers may have earned some noteworthy “bowling trophies” for her role as Gloria Stivic in the game-changing sitcom “All in the Family” in the 1970s, but here on the Seacoast, she has been bowling over audiences with her zany takes in holiday stage classics.
She’s back in the city to reprise her role as Miss Hannigan, the villainous and inebriated director of a New York orphanage where a plucky, red-headed girl is holding out hope for a sun-filled tomorrow.
“Annie” opens at The Music Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 27, and runs through Sunday, Dec. 22.
It’s the latest production in a series of collaborations in recent years between The Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine and its stage away from home at The Music Hall. Struthers also starred there as Martha Watson, a meddling, wisecracking Vermont inn housekeeper, in the Ogunquit’s Music Hall production of the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas” in 2017.
She gamely answered NHWeekend’s 3Questions via email during rehearsals for “Annie.”
1. Miss Hannigan is such a delightfully disagreeable character. In your Broadway, national and Seacoast productions, what draws you to this role? Any traits or quips that are especially fun to deliver?
Miss Hannigan IS a delightfully disagreeable character to play! I have happily been playing this role for 21 years now. The first time I ever played Hannigan, I took over for Nell Carter who had been Hannigan on Broadway in the 25th anniversary production of “Annie.” When it was closing on Broadway, almost all of the actors agreed to then go out on a national tour with the show. All except Nell. She had two little boys and she didn’t want to be on the road. So after three auditions, I was awarded the part and joined the company in Columbus, Ohio, on New Year’s Eve.
I’m now often offered the role, and I’m always drawn to it because it is a delicious chance to get away with eating the scenery. This musical also incorporates two of my favorite groups on the planet — children and animals! I find it ironic that after 35 years of being the ambassador for the impoverished and disenfranchised children all over the world, I often play a woman who can’t stand them.
One of my favorite pieces of dialogue that I say in every performance is said to (the character of) Grace Farrell, the secretary of Oliver Warbucks, when she has come to the orphanage to choose “an orphan” to bring to Warbucks’ mansion for two weeks. Miss Farrell chooses Annie. My response is, “Oh, you wouldn’t want Annie because she’s a drunk and a liar!” That’s one of those perfect examples of the “the pot calling the kettle black.”
2. ”Annie” has lots of heart and is a feel-good start to the holiday season. What are a few things that you might treasure this year. Blessings or experiences from the past year that stand out as the biggest smile-makers?
It’s particularly fun when I get the chance to be in the show at holiday time. The Ogunquit Playhouse presented “White Christmas” here at The Music Hall two years ago, and it was magical for me when it was not only snowing on stage, but also outside here in Portsmouth. The audience will be “snowed on” again for every performance this year.
Annie’s character always serves as a reminder to ALL of us that not only will the sun come out tomorrow, but we also have many blessings every year that we can be hugely thankful for and experiences that, when remembered, are smile- and laugh-inducers. Every day there’s at least one thing that happens to me in my waking hours that either makes me laugh or has me make a conscious effort to tuck it away and recount it to someone later on.
Besides having my health at 72 years old, two of my biggest blessings have been the chance to be in a show for the Ogunquit Playhouse twice this year (in “42nd Street” and “Annie”).
3. And dare I ask that oft-asked question on behalf of “All in the Family” fans everywhere: Where do you keep your Emmys and Golden Globe?
It’s funny that you asked me where I keep my two Emmy awards and my Golden Globe. Bottom line, I’ve always believed that if you want a trophy you should join a bowling team. For many years I was uncomfortable putting these trophies out on display in my home. I felt it to be ostentatious or at least seemed to smack of braggadocio. Over the years, friends and family have convinced me that it’s all right for me to have them sitting where others can see them. They now live on the shelf in a window behind the sofa in my den. I still feel like I should join a bowling team.
“Annie” runs from Nov. 27 through Dec. 22 at The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth. It stars Robert Newman (who played Joshua Lewis for 28 years on the TV soap opera “Guiding Light) as Oliver Warbucks, Josie Todd as Annie, Grace Farrell as Gail Bennett, Jeffry Denman as Rooster Hannigan, and Angie Schworer as Lily St. Regis. For ticket information, go to themusichall.org or call 436-2400.