Twenty-one years after the original production of "Annie" became synonymous with Mom, apple pie and the American flag, the newly mounted revival will come to the Capitol Theatre for a limited run beginning Tuesday, March 31.
Co-stars and veteran actors Sally Struthers and Conrad John Schuck are extremely enthusiastic about the play. Struthers says that being able to perform in "Annie" is "a dream come true," while Schuck lauds the show as "populist entertainment, positive and uplifting."Inspired by Harold Gray's famed comic strip, the musical is the quintessential example of hope and optimism, as exemplified by such memorable numbers as "It's the Hard-Knock Life," "Tomorrow" and "Easy Street."
The show's producers, Timothy Childs and Rodger Hess, are bringing the original creative team to Salt Lake, with 9-year-old Brittny Kissinger in the title role of America's favorite redheaded moppet. She is the sixth incarnation of the title character.
Struthers takes the key role of Miss Hannigan, the orphanage matron audiences love to hate, and Schuck plays Daddy Warbucks.
Struthers, a two-time Emmy Award winner, is best known for her television portrayal of the scatterbrained Gloria Stivik in the groundbreaking '70s sitcom "All in the Family." She also appeared opposite Jack Nicholson in the film "Five Easy Pieces" and with Steve McQueen in "The Getaway."
More recently she has taken Broadway roles in Neil Simon's female version of "The Odd Couple" and as Miss Lynch in the national road company of the musical "Grease!"
Schuck, who played Daddy Warbucks on Broadway in 1981, is best known for his role as Sgt. Enright on the hit '70s television series "McMillan and Wife," and has had roles in numerous films.
In separate telephone conversations from San Diego, Struthers and Schuck enthusiastically discussed the show and their long careers.
Although Struthers has had diverse roles in television, in films and on the stage, she prefers comedy. But growing up in Portland, Ore., she always thought she would follow in her father's footsteps and become a doctor.
When her mother realized Struthers could hardly handle a frog in biology class, she knew acadaver would be too big a challenge and suggested her daughter become a comic actress, starting with training at the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts.
"My mission in life is to make people laugh," Struthers says. "That, to me, is music. If you offered me a killer dramatic role and a killer comedic role, I would always take the comedic role."
"All in the Family," she says "was a hilarious experience every day." She enjoyed Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton and Rob Reiner equally but was especially impressed with Reiner's intellectual genius. "We called him `the Sultan of Slice.' If there were two minutes to be cut from the script, he immediately knew where to do it - `Turn to page 7,' he would say."
Struthers was not always as impressed with the lines she was given, which ranged from "I'll help you set the table, Ma," to "Daddy, stop that!"
"Annie," on the other hand, offers her a great role, and Struthers describes the play as "funny, full of pathos, it has a great book - and the dialogue stands on its own without the music. When I first saw it, I said, `Someday I want to play this role.' "
When Nell Carter, who was playing Miss Hannigan in the recent Broadway revival, announced she was leaving the show, Struthers went after it "like a dog after a bone - relentlessly."
She had already thought long and hard about how she would play it - differently from both Carter's stage portrayal and Carol Burnett's movie portrayal. "Carol Burnett played it like a witch, and it was sometimes scary to kids, but I didn't want to play her as a frightening person. I chose to make her neurotic, childlike, someone who has been in an orphanage so long she does things like little kids would do. Now, when I play it, I can hear the children laughing before the parents."
Struthers has nothing but praise for Schuck. She calls his portrayal "fantastic" and says, "He sings his pants off."
Schuck is equally enthusiastic about Struthers, saying her interpretation of the Miss Hannigan role is "delicious - she's a wonderful actress and very, very funny. Sally is 180 degrees different from Nell Carter. Believe me, there's nothing tired about this show," adding, "When you know people are leaving feeling much better than when they came, you know it's worth it."
He doesn't even mind lathering up his head every morning to shave it for the Warbucks role, because the show "carries itself across to an audience."
Schuck's desire to act began when he was 5 and his parents took him to New York to see "Oklahoma!" He was so impressed that he told his parents, "That's it - that's what I want to do."
He has good memories of his other acting roles, especially "McMillan and Wife," where he and Rock Hudson and Susan St. James laughed together for six years.
Schuck and St. James are considering doing a revival of "McMillan and Wife," generated by their rediscovering each other one day on the street. "It could be an interesting story, and revivals are in right now."
Nevertheless, Schuck prefers the stage to television, partly because an actor has so much more control over the script. In the future, he is hoping to do more directing. "I can get completely involved in directing and feel very passionate about it. It's wonderful to find something that, when you do it, it is so consuming that you have no sense of time, so that when someone says it's time to go home, it's jarring."
Struthers, Schuck and the cast of "Annie" are expecting the same kind of positive reaction from Salt Lake audiences that they've received elsewhere, as they throw themselves into one of America's longest-running musicals.
- TICKETS for "Annie" are available at the Capitol Theatre and all Albertson's ArtTix outlets, or by calling 355-2787. Prices range from $20 to $52.50. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, through Saturday, April 4, with a 7 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 5. There will also be 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.