In 2003, I had the great opportunity to spend several weeks reporting on treaty discussions at the United Nations HQ in New York City. The added bonus to that great ‘fresh out of grad school’ career experience was that I finally able to really experience seeing Broadway for the first time – that is, not just religiously watch the Tony Awards, see regional productions, or buy tickets to any national tour that rolled into Washington, DC. One of the first shows that I saw during that trip (and I saw many) was Thoroughly Modern Millie. In one short moment during the opening number, I became a fan of Sutton Foster, who had won the Tony Award for her portrayal of the wide-eyed Mille Dillmount nearly a year before. When she performed the show-stopper “Gimme Gimme,” I was really hooked.
Now, 9 years later – having seen Sutton in several concerts and all of her Broadway shows since then – it’s even clearer to me that Ms. Foster’s talents extend far beyond her trademark high belt and fierce tapping skills. She is a genuine music artist and interpreter of song and she certainly shared those gifts with the community at George Mason University as part of the 7th annual ‘ARTS by George‘ benefit event. Accompanied on the piano by her longtime musical director, the multi-talented Michael Rafter, she performed a variety of showtunes and standards, including several newer numbers that have not been performed in her cabaret act or on her 2 solo CDs. There was much less banter with the audience than is usually present in her charming cabaret act and the focus was instead mostly on song delivery. This choice, for the most part, worked in this more formal Gala context.
The standout for me was a number, which incorporated Stephen Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Being Alive.” Rafter’s arrangement was seamless and Foster’s delivery was technically and emotionally on point and made good use of a range of vocal dynamics. One of the new pieces, the standard “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” was a strong opening to the concert. Sutton’s contemplative and restrained delivery of the song showed off a dimension of her voice that I had not heard before.
Several other songs deserve mention. Ms. Foster reunited with her Little Women: The Musical co-star, Megan McGinnis, to sing Craig Carnelia’s “Flight,” which appeared on her first solo album. McGinnis and Foster’s voices blend together very well despite having very different textures and tone. Both highlighted the longing nature of the lyrics, which was appreciated. Sutton closed the show with two encores, one of which was from her most recent Broadway show, Anything Goes. Singing the title Cole Porter song from that show, Ms. Foster’s glorious and seemingly effortless high belt filled the concert hall and her comedic talents shined through. Along with a strong rendition of Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan’s “Gimme Gimme,” the signature 11 o’clock number from Thoroughly Modern Mille, these two encores left me- and probably much of the rest of the audience- wanting more.
Running Time: 65 minutes with no intermission.
Sutton Foster’s concert at the George Mason University Center for the Arts – 4400 University Drive in Fairfax, VA – was a one-night only event on September 29, 2012. For tickets to other Center for the Arts events, call the ticket office at (1) 888-945-2468, or purchase them online.
Sutton Foster’s website.
Joel Markowitz’s interview with Sutton Foster on DCMTA.