By Lauren Knight
Less than one month after the news broke of her return to Broadway alongside Hugh Jackman in the upcoming “The Music Man” revival, Sutton Foster performed on the Irvine Barclay stage as part of the theater’s Broadway Cabaret Series. Featuring music from previous Broadway roles as well as her newest album, Foster’s show brought a night of classic theatrical music to a sold-out audience in Orange County.
Foster made her Broadway debut in “Grease” in 1995, sparking a career on Broadway that landed her eleven iconic Broadway roles thus far. From a small-town flapper in 1920’s New York in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” to a nightclub singer aboard a 1930s cruise liner in “Anything Goes,” Foster’s familiar voice and tap dancing can be heard on many popular Broadway cast albums. Foster won two Tony Awards as Outstanding Actress in a Musical in 2002 and 2011, and has accumulated four other Tony nominations during her time on Broadway. Since starring on TV Land’s popular TV series, “Younger,” Foster has not appeared on Broadway in five years as she continues to work in the TV/film industry. All of this will change in 2020, however, as she takes on the leading lady in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man,” playing a librarian and piano teacher in small-town Iowa during the 1910s.
As she walked onstage to thunderous applause, Foster paused and smiled, scanning the audience before beginning a soft rendition of “Cockeyed Optimist” from “South Pacific,” accompanied by her personal musical director and pianist Michael Rafter. Foster continued on to sing a mashup of “Everybody Says Don’t” (Anyone Can Whistle) and “Yes!” (70, Girls, 70,) a mashup that Foster recorded on her most recent album, “Take Me to the World.” Mashups of several Broadway tunes became a pattern of the night, as Foster combined songs from many of the roles she played on Broadway. A highlight of this was Foster’s “Not For the Life of Me/ NYC/ Astonishing,” combining the theme of hope for the future with the wonders of being in New York City while singing from three of her well-known Broadway roles.
Prefacing her performance of “Stars and the Moon” from Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs For a New World,” Foster recalls her love for Broadway cast albums, joking about sitting with her 8-track tapes and listening to the music of Broadway.
“When I was younger, I listened to cast recordings, and I was obsessed with Jason Robert Brown.” Foster says, “Now I get to sing one of his songs for you.”
After finishing the song, Foster announced her surprise guest, Darcie Roberts, who played the role Foster originated in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on its national tour. The two combined “Gimme Gimme” (Thoroughly Modern Millie) with “I Got Love” (Purlie), showing off their iconic Broadway belt that landed both of them the role of Millie.
Foster opens up about her life as a mother of two-year old daughter Emily and the way that falling in love with becoming a family affects the meaning of music forever.
“New life and new love opens up little rooms in your heart that you never knew were there,” says Foster, introducing her original song, “Room.”
Speaking of her deceased mother, Foster recalls fond memories of listening to John Denver with her, telling the audience how much she loved one particular song by Denver. Foster begins to sing “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” dedicating it to her mother. The room remained dead silent and completely in awe, with only the sniffles of misty-eyed audience members to be heard. The applause that followed the final note on the piano reinforced the feeling that this song was an audience favorite of the night.
Looping back to the theme of hope and optimism, Foster repeats the bridge and final verse of “Cockeyed Optimist,” closing the night with a thank you to Darcie Roberts, Michael Rafter, the Barclay Theatre, and the audience for a wonderful night. Even if you haven’t seen Foster in one of her eleven Broadway roles, her performance at the Barclay captured the highlights of her theater career and left a strong sense of excitement for her upcoming role on Broadway next fall.