Sutton Foster: All-Broadway, Yet Intimate, Too, at the Strathmore
People who know about Sutton Foster talk about Broadway, the whole story line around her career and that’s as it should be. Broadway is where Foster made her mark, an indelible mark rewarded with two Tony awards, Drama Desk Awards and Outer Circle Awards, especially for her landmark starring roles in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Anything Goes.”
But the Sutton Foster that will be in concert at the Music Center at Strathmore, 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12, will not just be the Broadway star, she’ll be a star in the firmament of cabaret signers, which, as a tribe, are hallmarked for their originality. She’ll be singing Broadway songs, unexpected pop classics, songs from her album “Wish” and, oh, just wait and see . . .
“It will be a lot more intimate, a lot more of who I am, and I hope eclectic and different,” Sutton said in a phone interview. “It’s a challenge, but I’ve been doing it now for a while—all over the country, as well as at the Café Carlyle, which is really a wonderful, small place for singers.”
Sutton is one of those performers who isn’t everything she’s capable of at first glance. She’s one of those people who can do it all—a quickly disappearing type on the stage and in film and television. She can act—see her work on the much acclaimed but sadly cancelled “Bunhead”, and on Off-Broadway in “Trust”. She can sing, she can play the ingénue, the sexy, brassy powerhouse, she can be both winsome and Ethel Mermanish, she can, for sure, dance and strike a pose, and she can tap. She’s funny, physically and otherwise, the humor and optimism shine through.
“There’s a body of work, and I’m proud of all of that,” she said. “This is new, it’s a little like showing some parts of yourself, you’re not playing a part. It’s very liberating, after the Broadway work. And of course, I’m working with Michael Rafter, my arranger and pianist, who is just amazing. When we did the Carlyle, it was the most intimate place, and I think at first it was scary. It’s like a living room with 90 people in it and yet, as setting like that, it let’s you be vulnerable and I like that.” You can find one part of it on You Tube, Foster, goofy, bold, making faces, singing in high dudgeon on “I Don’t Wanna Show Off” from “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a surprise hit in which she starred.”
“You want to challenge yourself,you always want to grow in this business, you can’t be looking back and trying to repeat yourself. Things move fast.
“That’s why when I was offered “Bunheads”, which aired on ABC, I jumped at it,” she said. “It meant moving to Los Angeles, and I was very much a part of New York. But the part was wonderful.”
She played a Las Vegas showgirl, teaching dance, and it was, by all accounts a unique work. “It was so amazing an experience, so different from anything I’d done.
And it got cancelled. “That was a shock, but I’d do that again in a heartbeat. We just didn’t see it coming.”
She has grown a lot since she first made her mark on Broadway when in classic Broadway lore style, she was plucked from the ensemble (she’d already been in “Annie”, “Les Miz” among others) to replace Erin Daily, the star of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” during rehearsals in San Diego in 2002. The result was the kind of impact and “star-is-born” buzz, enough to win a Tony and other awards.
Although she went on to other hit shows as “Little Women”, The Drowsy Chaperone”, “Young Frankenstein”, and “Shrek”, she had to wait until 2011, when she got the coveted part of the spectacular Reno Sweeney in the remounting of “Anything Goes” (a big smash, hit in New York and on the road) and she absolutely killed it. It’s a bravura part and she put the kind of zing on it that made it hers for the duration of her run. She wore hot costumes, red-hot, she tapped, she danced, she dazzled everybody and your momma, her voice belting out the big numbers.
You see the pictures of her, the interviews, the videos and you see all sorts of people, because of her many gifts. She’s a swan who can actually play the part of duck, if she had to, she could probably still play Cinderella, or a woman growing into herself, serious as the blues.
There’s another online video, a long session made from an “Anything Goes” rehearsal, the title song number at the end of the first act, one of the most happiness-inducing numbers (thank you, Cole Porter) ever created. In it, just about the whole cast is involved, and most are in street clothes, and there’s no glamorous, glittery costume for Foster, just a wispy pull on blouse slacks and tap heels, casual lady in ponytail.
If you watch her closely, surprising you with the gutsy range of her voice, with those languid hand gestures, light, and precise with her moves and taps, she makes everything look almost as casual as breathing in and out. This young woman (she’s 38 now and still looks a little like an ingénue, all eyes, long legs and arms, gangly and lovely) seems hardly to be working up a sweat through the number, which is fast, furious and insinuating. And here’s the thing: at the end, and throughout you see someone totally at home in her world, she’s confident, happy, there’s this rush going on around her that seems like a force of nature.
It will be a little quieter at Strathmore, although it’s hardly an intimate room, what with nearly 2,000 seats and perfect acoustics.
She’s probably going to show off, make you feel some things you didn’t expect to feel, don’t know how, don’t know when, but she will.