'Younger' Star Sutton Foster :: Her Heart is in the Theater

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 1, 2016

Today Sutton Foster is best-known as the star of TV Land's hit comedy "Younger," in which she plays a 40-year old passing as a millennial; but her older fans know her as the triple-threat Broadway Baby in a string of hit musicals, which include her Tony-award winning performances in 2002's "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and her knockout turn as Reno Sweeney in Kathleen Marshall's revival of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" in 2011.

Foster has been performing more frequently on the concert stage as a soloist, earlier this month with The Baltimore Symphony and in Philadelphia at the historic Merriam Theater March 3 for one night only; with her longtime piano partner Michael Rafter.

"My heart is always in the theater," Foster groggily said last week in a phone interview. "I'm under the covers, in my bed in New York, I just landed in New York last night. I was working with a musical theater summer school for three weeks in New Zealand, then a vacation, because I've never been. Then I did a concert in Sydney of music by Stephen Schwartz. It was so exciting to sing an evening of his songs, he was there and it was so great to celebrate his work."

For her Philly appearance, Foster was originally part of "Seth Rudetsky's Broadway Concert Series" at the Merriam Theater, that was kicked off in the fall with Audra McDonald, but Rudetsky's new musical "Disaster!" is about to open Broadway, so he had to bow out this time. Instead, Foster will be accompanied by her regular pianist Michael Rafter, whom she has teamed up with in such intimate venues as Joe's Pub and in concert halls all over the world. Their show at the famed Carlyle Hotel was released on disc and features a mixed playlist of pop songs, standards from the Great American Songbook and of course many show tunes.

Foster is equally at ease with belter numbers like 'Defying Gravity' and 'Being Alive' as she is with intimate jazz phrasing in songs by one of her favorite composers Hoagie Carmichael, on such standards as "The Nearness of You" and "Georgia on My Mind." "Something that is so exciting to be able to re-interpret it and personalize it, through my lens, is exciting."

"Michael is my go-to guy, a phenomenal collaborator and we've done a studio recording and also a live album from the Carlyle together and now we're going back into the studio later this year and we're trying out a lot of new material. What is exciting for these concerts is the chance to do songs from Broadway, but also to be an opportunity to introduce audiences to who I am as musical performer beyond the characters I've played," Foster said.

Foster also has formidable gifts as a dancer. She was able to show some of her skills as a dance teacher on the short-lived tv show "Bunheads " but she was a star gypsy on Broadway in "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "The Drowsy Chaperone," "The Wild Party" and especially "Anything Goes," not to mention burning the floor in the Broadway Bares AIDS Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS concerts.

"I really started as a dancer," she said "I trained in tap, jazz and ballet. When I was four my mom put me in dance class and it was in the strip mall dance studios. It wasn't anything fancy. But I loved dancing and grew up taking class every day."

Foster's voice choked when she recalled singing the showstopper number "Anything Goes" fronting a troupe of dancing sailors at the end of Act I. "What Kathleen Marshall gave us in that number, I'll never forget the first preview and finishing that number and just lost it backstage... it just hit me in that moment that I was able to combine everything that I always worked on as a singer and dancer."

Sutton Foster performs at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia on March 3. For tickets go to www.kimmelcenter.org.

For more on "Younger," visit the show's website.

Watch Sutton Foster and the company of "Anything Goes" perform at the Tony Awards:

Watch Sutton Foster perform "Defying Gravity"

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.