In the hearts of many musical theater enthusiasts, Sutton Foster is in a class all her own. A genuine triple threat with a radiant personality and a terrific belting voice, Foster, 35, continues to be one of the most sought after and admired actresses working on the Great White Way. Her star-making, Tony Award-winning performance in 2002’s Thoroughly Modern Millie cemented her leading lady status within the New York theater scene, and she further displayed her charm and versatility in Little Women (2005, Tony nomination), The Drowsy Chaperone (2006, Tony nomination), Young Frankenstein (2007) and Shrek the Musical (2008, Tony nomination). Last spring, she particularly wowed theatergoers with her strikingly nuanced portrayal of Fay Apple in the excellently conceived concert presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle at New York’s City Center, which, in my book, is in the running as one of the best NYC productions of 2010.
Having ended her first foray off-Broadway in Paul Weitz’s dark comedy Trust opposite Zach Braff (Scrubs), the Statesboro, Georgia native and sister of Tony nominee Hunter Foster (Urinetown) is on tour in support of her beguiling 2008 debut CD optimistically entitled Wish (Ghostlight Records). The CD is an infectiously intimate collection ranging from Duke Ellington tributes (“I’m Beginning to See The Light,” “I Like the Sunrise”) and bygone chestnuts (“Warm All Over,” “My Romance,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Come the Wild, Wild Weather”) to pop numbers (“Up on the Roof,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders”) and little known gems (“Danglin’,” “My Heart Was Set on You,” “Flight”).
On Saturday, November 13 at Springfield’s Kuss Auditorium, Foster will sing selections from Wish in addition to songs she introduced on Broadway. She will be accompanied by her musical director Michael Rafter (Swing!, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Everyday Rapture), and expect a few surprises along the way.
In advance of her concert, presented by the Springfield Arts Council, Foster discussed her craft and career.
onStageDayton: What does musical theater mean to you?
Sutton Foster: It’s everything to me. It’s my true passion…and honestly has changed my life. I’ve had moments in the theater, both as an audience member and on stage, where I have been transported. It’s powerful. To express yourself with song is very powerful.
OSD: What are some of your favorite musicals?
SF: Sweeney Todd is my all-time favorite. I also love Spring Awakening, The Light in the Piazza, West Side Story.
OSD: Do you have any musical theater influences?
SF: Patti LuPone has been a huge influence in my life. I used to listen to her sing over and over again in my room and try and sing like her.
OSD: How did it feel to win the Tony for Thoroughly Modern Millie? What did that win signify?
SF: It was a dream come true. I still to this day can’t believe that happened and that I now have a Tony in my apartment. I used to practice my Tony Award speech in my bedroom when I was a kid…I guess (winning) signified that I had made it in some way, but I think, more importantly, it signified to my family, especially my extended family, that maybe I could make a career out of doing this.
OSD: What are some of the most eye-opening experiences you’ve had thus far in your career?
SF: I think, how hard it is…the sacrifices you have to make to do eight shows a week. How ‘unglamorous’ it can be at times…how it can be difficult to deal with being criticized publicly. But it’s also a beautifully small, supportive community, and I have made friends and relationships that I’ll have for a lifetime.
OSD: Are you excited to play the iconic Reno Sweeney in the Broadway revival of Anything Goes this spring? Do you have an idea as to how you plan to portray the role?
SF: We don’t start rehearsals until January so I’m still very much in the early stages. But I’m thrilled and honored to take on this challenge.
OSD: Are there any dream roles you’d like to perform in the future?
SF: One of my favorite shows is Me and My Girl. I’d love to play Sally in that…or The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods.
OSD: Can you share a little about the genesis of your Wish CD? What do the songs represent as a whole? Did you always intend to create an eclectic song list rather than a CD devoted to show tunes?
SF: I think when my music director Michael Rafter and I started looking at songs we chose material that spoke to us personally, and that is why the list is a bit eclectic. We really wanted our ‘first album’ to be true to us and where we were when we recorded it. We started working together on Millie back in 2001, and started working toward an album back in 2004, so this has been years in the making. And I think it’s my proudest achievement thus far.
OSD: Are there any tunes from Wish that hold a special meaning or are personal favorites?
SF: “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” I’m a huge John Denver fan, and I knew I wanted to include one of his songs on the album. And Michael wrote the arrangement for the song and it was just perfect. I also love the duet “Flight” that I sing with Megan McGinnis.
OSD: What are your thoughts on the current state of musical theater? Are new voices being heard?
SF: Well, I think they have been. Tom Kitt – Next to Normal – Lin Manuel Miranda – In the Heights…new shows like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I think the envelope is being pushed now more than ever.
OSD: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring musical theater performers?
SF: Don’t be an asshole. Respect your teachers, your peers…and take opportunities…you always have more to learn.
See event details on the DMM Event Calendar
Sutton Foster sings ‘Someone Else’s Story’
Playbill Video Cue & A: Sutton Foster
What: An Evening with Sutton Foster
When: Saturday, November 13 at 8 p.m.
Where: Kuss Auditorium, Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 S. Fountain Ave., Springfield
Cost: Adults $30-$50; Students (age 22 and under) $20-$40. Tickets can be purchased by calling (937) 328-3874 or visiting online at www.SpringfieldArtsCouncil.org. Group discounts available by calling (937) 324-2712.