Somewhere between Bloomington, Ill., and Eagle River, Wis., Sally Struthers is camped inside a blue-painted bus with a cell phone at her ear. What transpires next seems counterintuitive for the bubbly, blond actress who describes herself as possessing “the exuberance of a Cocker Spaniel.”
Struthers, a two-time Emmy Award winner, launches into a birthday tribute — but not the sunny, familiar melody. No, her version manages a dark, dense twist, a cold-water reminder of time’s urgent march, gallows humor at its ironic best.
“Willard Scott will have to put me on a Smucker’s jar,” she said later, obviously in a hilarious, good-natured mood. “There is an old Indian saying that laughter adds (extra) years to your life. I intend to live to be 110.”
More than a sample of her comedic timing, this illustrates a theatrical sensibility elevated to a fine edge, which enjoys ample expression in “Nunsense,” the Broadway musical arriving Tuesday for two shows at the Grand Opera House.
Now observing its 25th year on tour, “Nunsense” is a production of Dan Groggin’s international franchise, a theatrical cottage industry that has spawned “Nunsense” sequels and several newer versions, according to a Grand Opera House news release.
And, within this anniversary edition, Struthers appears to be pure silver — bright, lustrous and quite important.
After a relentless pursuit by Groggin himself, Struthers accepted the role “sight unseen.”
Groggin envisioned her as Mother Superior, the former circus star turned nun, who leads the Little Sisters of Hoboken, N.J., to fame and fortune.
Tragically and inexplicably, 54 nuns have been poisoned by a kitchen mishap. In need of burial funds, the remaining sisters sell greeting cards, but a mistaken purchase leaves the nunnery shy of its full interment budget. So the sisters opt for their habit-performing best and mount an old-fashioned vaudeville show at the local high school.
“There are extreme opposites in performing this particular show,” she said, reflectively. “I have an absolutely, delightfully enjoyable scene at the end of act one that I look forward to doing. The show is a joyful two hours. But packing and unpacking suitcases and trunks, riding on the bus for hundreds of miles and being in a new city every night and forgetting its name can be grueling, emotionally, physically and mentally.”
So she has adopted an elegantly simple coping mechanism: The producers compensate her for the rigorous itinerary, but she performs for free.
It appears that Struthers — most loved as Archie and Edith Bunker’s daughter in Norman Lear’s breakthrough sitcom “All in the Family’’ — just can’t shake the role. Although she appeared for seven seasons in the series “The Gilmore Girls,” most Americans fondly recall her as Gloria Stivic.
Tuesday and Wednesday
What: The Broadway musical ‘Nunsense’
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Grand Opera House, 651 Mulberry St.