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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

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1040 Abroad

Sutton Foster, Broadway Superstar, Lands in the West End

The modern-day queen of American musicals, Sutton Foster has flown in at short notice to replace Megan Mullally in Anything Goes, ten years after she won a Tony award for playing Reno Sweeney. Interview by Michael Burland
Published on June 26, 2021

Sutton Foster

You were born in Statesboro, Georgia and raised in Troy, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. That’s a classic move for blues musicians, but maybe not so much for musical theater artists. Do you feel Southern, Northern, or what?

My entire extended family is from the south, so I was raised with a southern sensibility, but I have a lot of Midwestern in me too. And I have lived in New York City for 25 years so I’m a mashup.

If the internet is to be believed, you must have always wanted to be a performer – you were a contestant on Star Search, auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club, left High School to go on a national tour of The Will Rogers Follies directed by the legendary Tommy Tune, then went to Carnegie Mellon University but left to pursue a theatrical career.

I grew up taking dance classes and was involved in community theatre and high school theater, but it was always something I just did for fun. I never thought it would be my profession or that it was even possible to make a profession.

The story about your big break has a feel of "42nd Street" legend to it. You were an understudy in the musical version of Thoroughly Modern Millie, out of town at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, then last-minute promoted to lead and stole the show, ended up on Broadway, and then won the Tony. What was that roller coaster like?

It truly was a roller coaster. When Millie came about I had been touring and had been on Broadway in four Broadway shows ~ mostly in the ensemble and as an understudy. Millie was an awesome opportunity to do a brand-new musical and I was thrilled to be cast in the ensemble and as the understudy to Millie. I never in a million years expected the turn of events that happened, and I was 25 years old and so green and naive. As it was all happening it was so surreal. I can look back on it now and see how amazing it was.

Anything Goes Cast (L-R) Felicity Kendal, Robert Lindsay and Gary Wilmot to star alongside Sutton Foster in Anything Goes

You’re what they call a triple threat – an actress, singer, and dancer. And maybe a quadruple threat, as you play comedy roles too. Is there any one aspect that you like best?

I mean to me I hope to be a storyteller. An actor. Because without story telling or intent, dance is just movement, singing is just notes and sound.

You're perfected ingenue roles, and comedy, and you've also taken to cabaret. There are parallels with Barbara Cook there, and you're about to go to Broadway in December with Hugh Jackman in the revival of i>The Music Man (a famous ingenue role which Cook created). Are you the new Barbara Cook?

I don’t think I would ever compare myself to Barbara Cook. She was a master. I was lucky enough to see her at the Cafe Carlyle. Talk about a storyteller. Not only an incredible singer, but no one interprets lyrics like her.

Tell us about what it was like for theatre people over this long Covid lockdown. What did you do? Did you continue to work with your voice?

It was hard! I never thought what I did for a living would just not exist. What we do is based on people being able to gather. It was scary. I exercised a lot. I train with a Broadway dancer virtually, and in preparing to tackle Reno again she had me sing and do dance cardio at the same time!

You’ve done TV comedy (including Younger) - how do successful theatre performers like you get the mix right with TV work?

More and more theatre actors are working in television and that is so exciting. It’s really the same thing. It’s communicating and telling a story, just a little more intimately. It was a bit of a learning curve for me transitioning from theatre to television, and I was so lucky to have been on a show for seven seasons. It gave me seven years of practice, the opportunity to learn from all of my incredible castmates and the opportunity to ask lots of questions.

What offer would make you up sticks and move to LA?

Well Amy Sherman-Palladino got me to move to LA with Bunheads. I think if she called again, I’d pack my bags in a heartbeat.

Would you like to do more TV?

If the right role and opportunity came up, of course. I loved working in television.

Is there more TV work now in New York?

A TON! It’s so awesome. Lots of stages, and New York City is an incredible backdrop.

What lead roles would you like to be offered now?

Oh gosh. How about something new. New writers and new voices.

Do you turn down plays, or is it that you just get more or better musical theatre offers?

I would never turn down a play! I think I’ve just organically done more musicals.

We now get to see you in London because you've stepped in to replace Megan Mullally in Anything Goes. You of course played Reno Sweeney in the show on Broadway in 2011 - and won your second Tony for it. How much thought did you have to give it when you got the call?

Well it all happened very last minute! It seemed like an incredible opportunity to revisit this role and this show that I love so much and to work with Kathleen again and to work and live in London for the first time.

After 10 years what’s the hardest part of going back to Anything Goes?

It’s physically the most demanding thing I have ever done, so I’m most scared of that. Being 10 years older is terrifying.

How are you getting on with a British cast and crew, including your co-stars Robert Lindsay, Felicity Kendal and Gary Wilmot?

Everyone is amazing! So welcoming and wonderful.

Have you visited or worked in the UK before?

I’ve only visited one other time for 4 days, 10 years ago. It’s amazing. And my family is here with me, my husband and daughter, so I can’t wait to explore the city on our days off.

Do you think there will be a resurgence of comedy and lighter material as Broadway and the West End reopen after all the doom and gloom?

I do think audiences will want to laugh and escape and Anything Goes is just that. It is just an evening of good fun.

Finally, our signature ‘sign-off’ question: What is the best thing about being Sutton Foster?

Ha! Oh gosh that’s a hard one. How about... that I get to be my daughter’s mama.

Anything Goes is at London’s Barbican Theatre, 23 July - 17 October. For tickets and information: AnythingGoesMusical.co.uk

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