By Barbara & Scott Siegel
Sutton Foster: Musical Theater’s Most Versatile Star!
First, let’s get this out of the way at the start: despite having gone to the West Coast to star on TV (most recently in the hit series, “Younger”), Sutton Foster has not abandoned the theater. She has returned to star in Violet (Tony Nomination) and, most recently, she has just opened at the Signature Center in the New Group production of Sweet Charity. And now, second, let’s get his out of the way, as well: Sutton Foster can seemingly do anything and make it real, vital, human, and utterly compelling. Not to mention entertaining.
She has performed light musical comedy in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes, full out musical comedy in The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, and Shrek, and musical drama in Violet. In all of these, she has been a sensational singer, a kick-ass dancer, and a remarkably rangy, spot-on actress. Simply calling Sutton Foster a triple threat doesn’t do her justice.
Consider her current performance in Sweet Charity – her first Off-Broadway musical (which may well transfer to Broadway next season). In her impeccable performance of the show’s title character, Ms. Foster does the impossible: she obliterates the memory of Gwen Verdon, putting her own indelible stamp on the character of Charity. Channeling a bit of Carol Burnett in her hilariously goofy comedic line readings and off-kilter physical choices, she also colors the character with brash sexiness that Burnett did not possess, while somehow, at the same time, evoking a heart-rending vulnerability. And even though the show is a star vehicle for Ms. Sutton, it never feels that way; her performance is seamless and organic, she never once actually steps out into a star turn.
Thanks to the smart direction by Leigh Silverman and the clever choreography by Joshua Bergasse, she show is also warmly generous to Ms. Foster’s talented co-stars, including the poignant Shuler Hensley as Oscar (the man most likely to save Charity), Asmeret Ghebremichael (as one of Charity’s two best friends), Emily Padgett (as her other best friend), and Joel Perez (impressively playing a variety of roles with style).
Though Sutton Foster has been nominated for 6 Tony Awards (winning twice), this performance as Charity may well be her greatest achievement to date because of everything that she is called upon to do in this show – and how well she does every bit of it. Her comedy performance when she meets and shares a hotel room with the famous film star Vittorio Vidal (Joel Perez) may well turn out to be one of the funniest scenes you will see on stage this year. Her dancing, both straight on and comic, comes from character not just mere technique, her singing is as rich and lovingly offered as Charity’s soul, and her acting arrives as if lit by an inner light.
“There’s gotta be something better than this?” We don’t think so.