A roll in the hay with Young Frankenstein’s Sutton Foster
By Randy Rainbow
(as seen in HX Magazine 10/26/07)
Backstage at the Hilton Theatre, a colossal flat-topped creature charges me from a dressing room down the corridor. It’s just Shuler Hensley, the man behind the Monster in Broadway’s smash spoof Young Frankenstein. Extending his massive green hand, he confidently introduces himself as Sutton Foster. But giggling behind her playful impostor is the real deal. A Tony-winner for Thoroughly Modern Millie, she also earned nominations for Little Women and The Drowsy Chaperone—a show she vacated in April to play Inga, the oversexed blonde bombshell who “assists” Dr. Frankenstein in the best way she knows how. Ms. Foster then draws me into her intimate dressing room—which she affectionately refers to as her “campus dorm room,” complete with a stack of gossip rags—for a candid chat. It’s an appropriate setting since, if I didn’t know any better, I might mistake the demure diva for a college chorine, humbled by the chance to be a part of the senior musical.
Randy Rainbow for HX: How’s life in Transylvania?
Sutton Foster: I love it! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with this team. Intimidating, but thrilling. It’s amazing to be onstage with this cast, and we’re having so much fun. The experience has been surreal. The other day, I get Susan Stroman saying, “You have a special visitor.” Then Mel Brooks comes around the corner and introduces me to Gene Wilder, who’d seen the show, and I’m just like, What the...? This is crazy! I really try to take all that stuff in, because it’s so special and it goes so fast. I want to savor every moment.
Because the film has such a cult following, do fans steal your cues and shout out punchlines?
We haven’t been able to hear that onstage, but a friend of mine was at the show the other night and said there was a woman behind her who kept yelling things like, “Put the candle back!” and “Sank you, Doctor!,” you know, some of the iconic lines. My friend got a little annoyed. Before the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number, we have been getting people from the audience sort of replicating the crowd’s reaction from the movie, which is very cool.
A little Rocky Horror-ish.
Totally! Maybe we’ll do a midnight show sometime, where everyone can sing along and participate.
Young Frank is a much longer show than Drowsy, although you’ve had a lot to do in both. Which has been more physically challenging: “showing off” or “rolling in the hay”?
They’re physically challenging in different ways. When I first started doing “Show Off,” I remember thinking, “Will this ever get easier?” And it did, but it was still a lot eight times a week. In Young Frankenstein, when we do “Transylvania Mania” at the end of act one, it’s like my cardio work out for the day. I mean, how awesome to have been part of a show that was an hour and forty minutes and be home by 10pm? But at the same time, it’s great to return to a traditional two-act production with an intermission. And this is really a traditional, old-fashioned musical.
Have you peeked at the film since taking the role?
I watched it before the reading and again before we started rehearsal in Seattle to be inspired and make sure I wasn’t completely off, then I sort of put it away. It’s so tricky because there’s such comparison. Your worst nightmare is that people will say, “Well, she’s not Teri Garr.” No, I’m not! It would be amazing if I could be, but I’m also trying to bring a new spin to it. Mel [Brooks] has been so open to our own interpretations. His biggest note was to be earnest and sincere. Sexy but innocent. Inga’s not vampy in any way. She’s just European. She just likes to have sex—with anyone! You know, “You have a headache? Let’s go fuck! It’ll make ya feel better!”
Sounds like you’ve enjoyed working with Mel.
At first I was extremely intimidated by him, but he’s been so incredible. You hear him talk about his family all the time, and every day he has his little cookie…He’s just a teddy bear.
Your brother Hunter is starring in a musical adaptation of Frankenstein Off-Broadway. Will everyone in your family be doing a Frankenstein musical this season?
Yes! Both my Mom and Dad in Florida...[Laughs]. I know! It’s the weirdest thing. I haven’t gotten a chance to see [Frankenstein], and my brother hasn’t seen this yet. He called me in Seattle when he got it, and said, “You will never guess!” Hunter and I have a very supportive relationship. I’m a big fan of his, so I’m excited to see him in this piece. And I think there’s room enough on the boards for two Frankensteins.
Where are your after-show hangouts?....So we can all join you..
I’m not really out much, to tell you the truth. Last night I was at House of Brews. But usually it's pretty chill. I'm a big fan of television!
What’s your must-see TV?
Wednesday night is a very exciting night, although Top Chef is over. Love Top Chef. Love Project Runway, which is starting up soon. Grey’s Anatomy is the best. Pushing Daisies is Amazing. So sweet, and such an interesting angle. America’s Next Top Model is probably my favorite.
Are you watching it now?
I haven’t been.
Oh it’s so good! There are some great girls this season - Some real crazy ones. And I started watching The Biggest Loser, ‘cause it's so inspiring.
Don't get too inspired there, Sutton.
[Laughs] I know, I'll be like [sucks in cheeks]....But I tend to just go home and eat and watch TV. I have a Shitzu named Linus, so I have to take care of him. He's my little guy.
I know Patti LuPone was always an idol of yours, and you’d rewind her performance of “Being Alive” from the Sondheim Carnegie Hall Concert, trying to emulate it. Well, me too! But I’ve not yet been nominated for a Tony in the same category with her.
That was amazing, and she was sitting right behind me. I kept turning around like [giving thumbs up] and getting all excited for her because I thought she was gonna win. You know, it’s crazy because all these people I grew up idolizing are now suddenly my peers?! I was also obsessed with Lea Salonga, and when I finally met her, she knew my name! She said, “Hey Sutton, I’m Lea.” I was like, "I know!" I listened to her all the time! So I have to think, Well, it’s part of my job to never forget that, so when I meet someone who’s 15 and wants to be doing what I’m doing, I can say, “I was totally where you are, and your dreams are not that far-fetched. It can happen.” Because I’m still that 15-year-old girl who idolizes Patti LuPone and would love to work with her someday, or just sit and have coffee.
Where do you keep your Tony? Is it on you at all times?
[Laughs] Yes. Oh my God, what’s this...? [pretends to pull Tony from pocket] No, it’s on a bookshelf at home with—you remember those little fuzzy animals with the long arms that clip on to things? It’s got a little white bear with blue hair clipped to it.
What’s Most Played on your iPod these days? Anything embarrassing?
I don't think anything too embarrassing. Lots of showtunes on there. There are specific songs from The Light in the Piazza that inspire me so much, and some stuff from Spelling Bee, like the "I Love You Song". And stuff from Elegies. William finn is such a genius. My favorite artist is Patty Griffin, who I just adore....Ray LaMontagne’s album, Trouble...Dixie Chicks...The soundtrack from Once, that indie film. So good, and an awesome movie. See it!
If one were to do a YouTube search for you, one might find more clips of young men—some in wigs—lip-synching to Sutton Foster songs than actual clips of Sutton Foster.
I know! Everyone in the cast has seen them. We all watch them. I don’t know if I should tell people that. It might encourage more! But I have so many old home videos of myself doing things like that. I know that if I had access to the Internet and YouTube growing up, I totally would have done the same thing.
Are you honored or frightened by that gay icon status?
I think it’s great! My friend was telling me there’s this thing at a gay bar where they show clips from the Tonys—
Musical Mondays at Splash? Yes, you are a staple.
Yes! That’s it! And I know they show the clips of “Forget About the Boy” and “Show Off” all the time. I think that’s so cool!
Are you aware that “Forget About the Boy” has become an anthem for heartbroken homos everywhere?
No! Is that true? That is so sweet, and I love that song so much. Awww! Well, if I’ve done nothing else...
Young Frankenstein @ the Hilton, 213 W 42nd St, 212-307-4100 $52–$122.