Friday, February 20, 2009

The Princess Diaries

With Her Debut Album, One of Broadway's Lovliest Leading Ladies Reveals a Softer Side

As seen in HX Magazine, 2/20/09

CURRENTLY WOWING AUDIENCES as Princess Fiona in the Dreamworks blockbuster musical Shrek, Sutton Foster will soon delight fans with the Ghostlight Records release of her new solo CD Wish. A charmingly-optimistic compilation of songs from the worlds of jazz, pop, cabaret and theatre, Wish demonstrates the Tony-winner’s ability to quietly interpret a ballad as masterfully as she belts the high Gs. And modest as she is talented, Sutton’s showing no early signs of that hotheaded Broadway diva temperament we’ve come to expect from so many before her. (I’m not mentioning names…)

Randy Rainbow: This album’s a long time in the making.
Sutton Foster: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but just didn’t know how, really. After my run in Millie, I did an American Songbook concert at Lincoln Center. My musical director Michael Rafter and I got the idea to put some of those songs together for an album. But it was never the right time. Then this past year, when I was finishing Young Frankenstein, the timing seemed perfect. So we set the recording date and made sure we stuck to it!

It’s not necessarily as “belty” and “Broadway” as some might expect of your debut album. What made you go that way?
Well I knew I didn’t want to do “Sutton Belts the Classics”. A lot of the roles I’ve had are that way, and I figured it’s out there already on cast albums. I wanted to show a different side of myself. I wanted this album to be representative of who I am, as opposed to the characters I play.

You did throw “Oklahoma” on there as a bonus track. Is that an homage to “belty, Broadway Sutton”?
That has a bit of a backstory. It seems ridiculous, but it used to be my audition song. If they wanted something up-tempo, I'd march in there and belt out "Oklahoma". They were always shocked at first; then they’d laugh; then they'd say, "Ok, we want you to come back, but please sing a different song!" Usually it was the shock value that got me to the next level. But I always said that if I did an album, I’d include it.

Your arrangement of “Sunshine on My Shoulders” is simply gorge!
Thanks! That’s my favorite track. I loved John Denver growing up, and I love that song. It’s so simple, and at the same time so wishful and optimistic. It’s really the heart of the album.

Is that wishful optimism reflective of how you’re feeling these days?
I’d say I’m very optimistic now – personally and professionally, but on a much larger scale, for our country and for the world.

The CD pamphlet features your original artwork. Who knew you were so crafty?
It’s something I always seem to go to when I’m feeling most introspective. I tend to be a hermit and retreat a bit at times. It’s a way to reconnect and refuel myself artistically.

Shrek has been called by some “the gayest family musical on Broadway.” Would you concur?
I love that! That is so fabulous. You know, I’ve never thought of it that way. But I can see that, yes.

Well, that donkey’s a big ‘mo. And you are giving us a little Liza with a ‘Z’ at the top of act two.
Oh, totally! Ok, so I guess I’m representin’. [Laughs] We were actually going more for Ann Margaret or Ann Miller, which I guess is kind of the same idea. You know – that iconic rip-your-clothes-off-and-do-a-big-tap number with psychedelic lights sort of thing. It’s so much fun to do.

For Shrek, Ben Brantley compared you comedically to Danny Kaye and Carol Burnett. Have performers like those been inspirations to you?
That is sort of an unbelievable comparison. I mean, I grew up idolizing Carol Burnett. And I’ve always been obsessed with Danny Kaye. I stopped reading reviews entirely, but that one did come across my path. Then during the show, I started to think to myself, “Am I really like Carol Burnett?..” And then I had to stop myself and say, “Just do what you do! This is why you don’t read these things, Sutton!

About your alleged connection to [title of Show]: Did they really offer you the part before it hit Broadway?
Nope. That was all fictional. It’s funny; I actually went to see the show, not knowing I was such a pivotal part of the plot, and I was freaking out because they kept saying, “How about Sutton Foster… Let’s get Sutton Foster…”, and I was like, “Oh no! They never offered me the part! Stop saying my name![Laughs] But I love those guys so much. I think they’re phenomenal.

You're very supportive of new work and upcoming artists, though. Have you been offered smaller projects you’d like to take but are advised against because of your status?
No, I don’t think so. If it’s a piece I really believe in, then that’s all that matters. I mean, I’ve just done two mega-million dollar musicals, and now I’m actually looking for something smaller and more contemporary.

You’ve always said Patti LuPone is an idol of yours. Everyone’s talking about her recent onstage meltdown, when she stopped the show to ream a man for taking pictures of her during a performance of Gypsy. Have you heard the recording?
I actually just heard it. You know, part of me wishes she’d have just said “stop taking pictures” one time, instead of five. But the other part of me totally gets the frustration and wishes I had the balls to do that.

Have you ever come close?
I’ll shoot looks at people sometimes. That’s as far as I’ll go. I’ll stare down some kid eating Doritos in the front row, and he’ll be like, “Omigod! Princess Fiona’s totally lookin’ at me!

How about in twenty-five years, when they revive Gypsy again and you’re playing Mama Rose… Will you be having scary diva tantrums like Patti by then?
[Laughs] I can only hope to be so brilliant. But let’s see… It's been seven years since Millie and I’m probably dorkier and more insecure than ever. So hopefully in another twenty-five years, I’ll just be a big puddle of goo.

In a way, you’re the LuPone of your generation…
[Laughs] I’m Patti LuPone Lite.

It’s a lofty responsibility. Do you feel the pressure?
I forget about it sometimes. It’s difficult to bridge the gap between who I really am and what people may perceive me to be. My friend Julian Havard, who’s been my dresser for five shows now, has a hard time watching me on stage because he just thinks of me as the naked girl backstage, struggling to put her tights on and bitching about how tired she is. That puts it all in perspective.

Wish is out now on Ghostlight Records. Click here to get your copy!

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