Review: ‘One Night Only’: Sutton Foster at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia

Though she may boast two Tony Awards, a resume full of magnificent leading ladies, and starring roles on two recent television series, Sutton Foster becomes refreshingly low-key in her acclaimed solo show. Unlike her huge career, Foster’s One Night Only, presented Thursday night by the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in association with Mark Cortale Productions, is without glitz or glamour.

Sutton Foster. Photo courtesy of The Kimmel Center.
Sutton Foster. Photo courtesy of The Kimmel Center.

While other stars of her stature and experience may depend on a full orchestra or an elaborate presentation, Foster thrives in the basic set up of singing spotlighted center stage, backed by one piano and long-time collaborator and Musical Director Michael Rafter. Known best for her roles in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, Anything Goes, and Shrek the Musical, her carefully curated solo performance demonstrates talent far deeper than showstoppers with an emphasis on small, but equally entrancing melodies.

On stage, she is quirky and long-limbed with a charisma that is always precise yet never appears overly polished. Most importantly, though, she is thoroughly invested in every second of her music, never performing by rote or habit, making an evening like this so rapturously mesmerizing despite its inherent simplicity.

Foster’s set list mixed favorites old and new from her Broadway turns, as well as standards from her past two albums and some fresh tryouts from an upcoming recording. Showing off her vast versatility, she recalled some her beloved composers of musical theater, Cole Porter, Jeanine Tesori, Jason Robert Brown, as well as covering some more mainstream greats like Simon & Garfunkel and John Denver. Treats of the evening included understated versions of “Let’s Take It Nice and Easy,” “The Nearness of You,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” But if you’re waiting to hear her brassy, iconic “Gimme Gimme,” you’ll get that eventually too.

Late in the show, Megan McGinnis, former Little Women co-star, was brought to the stage. On her one night off from starring in the currently running off-Broadway Daddy Long Legs, McGinnis added two solos and a few duets to Foster’s already stellar lineup, most powerfully, Craig Carnelia’s “Flight.” The two have similarly clear tones, not to mention a deep friendship, and blended so flawlessly at times they could easily be mistaken for one voice.

Overall, Foster’s performance is enchantingly intimate, a glimpse into each of her many strengths as a performer and the wide range of heights her powerful voice can reach. A magnetic entertainer, she remains unforgettable whether in a role on stage or screen, or simply sharing a few of her favorite tunes.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

One Night Only: Sutton Foster played for one night only, on Thursday, March 3, 2016, at the Merriam Theater – 250 South Broad Street in Philadelphia, PA. For future events, go to their calendar of events.