July 06--PROVINCETOWN -- Most fans of Broadway star Sutton Foster wouldn't expect to hear the two-time Tony Award winner singing "Oklahoma." Yet there she was Thursday night, belting out that old chestnut of theater Americana as her big encore in the first of three shows for the Broadway @ The Art House series.
Why? Because that song, even though it was performed by a man and an ensemble in a musical that dates back to 1943, was Foster's go-to audition song for years. She said Thursday that she knew it was kind of a crazy choice, but it got people's attention -- even if they did tell her to "please come back -- and please sing a different song."
Backstage tidbits like that are one of the unique, and special, things about this series hosted by Sirius XM radio host and Broadway-centric Renaissance guy Seth Rudetsky. He pulls together an eclectic show about a star's past, with his casual interviewing style pulling out funny and fascinating stories interspersed with the star performing songs that have some meaning to her career.
The show changes every time, so patrons at Foster's two shows Friday night may not have heard "Oklahoma." But chances are no one in Thursday's Art House audience will hear that song again without smiling fondly about the bundle of charm and talent that is Foster.
Now 38, Foster said she was 10 when she got her Broadway break as Sandy in a revival of "Grease." She had smaller roles and was Eponine in "Les Miserables" before her 2002 Tony-winning breakout in "Thoroughly Modern Millie." That led to originating roles in "Little Women, the Musical," "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Young Frankenstein" and "Shrek" in quick succession before her second Tony, in 2011, for "Anything Goes."
During her appealingly self-deprecating stories Thursday about pieces of that career, Foster noted a few times that as a young girl she was "a ball of energy and volume." She took dance lessons from age 4, but her voice wasn't trained and the girl who watched the Tonys wide-eyed on TV didn't know she wasn't supposed to just walk into an audition, turn her voice on full blast, and get a main role in a Broadway musical.
That energy and that volume were on display in Thursday's 90-minute show -- enough that you could only imagine people far down on MacMillan Wharf could hear some of, say, her powerful "Being Alive" from "Company" or wistfully yearning "On My Own" from her Eponine days. She's 5-foot-9-inches tall, thin, and stood on stage with a simple ponytail, no makeup (a topic of discussion), flat sandals and an uncomplicated sundress in pink and green floral print. She seemed somehow slight and, as cliche as it is to say, so girl-next-door that, even for someone who knew audio and video recordings, it was a surprise to have her open her mouth and, with no apparent strain or tough effort, beautifully project a song at such high volume and power in that intimate venue.
Thursday night, "Anything Goes" got the most attention, with Foster opening the show with "I Get a Kick Out of You," then wonderfully revisiting the title song as well as "You're the Top." The latter she sang with friend Rudetsky at his grand piano, one of a few duets the two performed.
They have an easy camaraderie, and voices that blend well. Song choices of "Poor, Sweet Baby" from "Snoopy! The Musical" and "I'm the Greatest Star" from "Funny Girl" reconnected with benefits they've done together, while an audience-participation duet of "Summer Nights" from "Grease" was tied to a story about the first time Rudetsky heard her sing.
Rudetsky also showed a video of the title number from their benefit of "They're Playing Our Song," which showcased Foster's crackling on-stage energy when she dances and her sometimes goofy physicality. She first connected with theater audiences with such comically endearing, girl-right-off-the-bus roles and talked Thursday about saying yes to playing Reno Sweeney in "Anything Goes" because that kind of confident, comfortably sexy, "look at me" role was so far outside her comfort zone.
Certainly her silly charm won over the Art House audience almost immediately, as it has TV audiences watching her ABC Family show "Bunheads," in which she played a Las Vegas showgirl turned dance teacher saying mouthfuls of fast-paced lines by "Gilmore Girls" writer Amy Sherman-Palladino. That series still hasn't been canceled or renewed, but Foster said Thursday that a decision has to be made contractually by the end of this month.
The unusually long wait has left her "in limbo land" -- a conversation that led to a quick rendition of an "audition piece" of "If My Friends Could See Me Now" from "Sweet Charity" that her TV character had sung to Rudetsky's accompaniment on the show. Foster noted, though, that being in limbo land did allow her to come to Provincetown for these shows and an accompanying art exhibit with friend Julien Havard at A Gallery down the street. So ABC Family's indecisiveness was certainly a boon for Provincetown audiences.
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