Anyone who had witnessed Sutton Foster on Broadway, from her Tony Award-winning performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie of 2002 onwards through her Princess Fiona in Shrek, knew what to expect when the lights dimmed at McGlohon Theatre and An Evening with Sutton Foster began. Yet the concert, with Michael Rafter as her accompanist at the keyboard, turned out to be unexpectedly charged with emotion and excitement.
There were friends and relatives in the audience, making Foster's appearance something of a homecoming. Up in the balcony and scattered below, Northwest School of the Arts students, who had just staged Millie at Booth Playhouse a week earlier, screamed ecstatically for everything she did -- even before it was possible to figure out what it would be.
It was all good, beginning with a firm Broadway foundation, "Something's Coming" from West Side Story followed by a medley from musicals Foster has appeared in, including the 1997 revival of Annie. Most of what followed steered us to a different side of Foster, namely the playlist of her first solo CD, Wish. If you hadn't devoured a copy when the album was released last year, some of the most charming material might be unfamiliar. "The Late, Late Show" had a jazzy naughtiness very much in tune with Foster's Millie Dillmount flapper persona while "Air Conditioner" gave the star an opportunity to turn up her comedy thermostat.
With a goblet labeled "Pimp" and another labeled "Ho," Foster shook up the concert routine with a couple of shticks involving the audience. One of these resulted in a Northwest student drawing a terrifically high belt song, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls, from five titles dropped into one of those cups. The gutsy power of that performance was certainly a peak moment, but Foster ascended that summit with astonishing ease -- and her breath control, frequently showcased during her 17 numbers, seemed even more effortless.
There were a couple of creampuff pop tunes in the mix, Carole King's "Up on the Roof" and John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders," and a Sondheim showstopper, "Being Alive," before Foster dropped one last Broadway bombshell in her encores. "Gimme Gimme" gave Foster fans what they came for, proven by the robust line that formed in the lobby as she signed CDs and chatted up her worshippers.
With the Northwest production of Millie quickly followed by the Sutton Foster evening, we've certainly gotten a hefty dose of Jeanine Tesori music in recent weeks. If you crave more, another week of the Davidson Community Players' production of Violet awaits at the cozy Armour Street Theatre. The musical, based on a highly esteemed Doris Betts short story, "The Ugliest Pilgrim," sends a physically scarred, emotionally naïve Carolina gal on a Greyhound bus odyssey to Tulsa, where she hopes that Oral Roberts, er, a fire-breathing evangelist will miraculously cure her disfigurement.
Two familiar names in the cast, Dennis Delamar and Patrick Ratchford, should provide sufficient incentive to make the trip. But there's also a stunning debut by Cassandra Howley Wood in the title role and plenty of distinguished work by Jack Stevenson, Timothy Scott Thomas, Kevin Roberge, Stuart Spencer, and the irrepressible Carmen Coulter.