As if it weren’t enough doing eight Fionas a week in Shrek on Broadway, Sutton Foster has squeezed in two Monday evenings this month at Feinstein’s at the Regency. I missed her February performance in Lincoln Center’s “American Songbook” series, so I made it over to Feinstein’s for the first of these, which took place on April 6 and spotlights songs from Foster’s CD released in February on Ghostlight Records. A second date follows on April 20.
If one of the goals of an evening of cabaret-style songs is to get a more personal view of a singing artist, the picture that emerged from the between-songs banter was of a sweet ingénue with a steely interior: an intensely ambitious and intelligent performing animal who can never get enough of being onstage. On a chilly evening, the 34-year-old Foster flounced onstage in a sleeveless yellow sundress, as if willing the stubbornly slow spring into the room. Yellow seemed like the right color choice for her sunny brand of charm, as she chatted about her childhood in Georgia and played a recorded excerpt of her assertive audio Valentine’s Day message to a childhood sweetheart, saved from a cassette tape she made when she was ten.
The songs in Foster’s brief sojourn at Feinstein’s—with musical director/pianist Michael Rafter, bass Leo Huppert, guitarist Kevin Kuhn, and drummer Clint de Ganon—show a different side of the performer than the more Broadway-comedy face of her recent American Songbook performance. Numbers included everything from Frank Loesser’s “Warm All Over” to John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” (Only four of the show’s fifteen numbers are from Broadway, one each from Shrek and Company, and two from Thoroughly Modern Millie.) Foster mentioned that it took four years to make the recording—perhaps understandable considering she’s had starring roles in three Broadway shows during that time (Young Frankenstein, The Drowsy Chaperone, Little Women).
With Foster’s great comic timing, one of the best numbers was Christine Lavin’s “Air Conditioner,” about a girl with just one requirement in the man department (see: song title). Perhaps the reason that song works so well is because it goes against type; Foster’s natural Mary Tyler Moore style of sweetness has just the right tension with the double-entendre lyrics and vampy rhythm (which I contend is the same reason Laura Benanti’s deadpan style as Gypsy Rose Lee worked so well). Other highlights were “Flight,” a duet evoking intense yearning that rises above its banal lyrics, with guest vocalist Megan McGinnis, a cast member from Little Women; and the opening number, Ellington’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” in which Foster’s light delivery and the ukulele accompaniment by Kevin Kuhn were just right for the lyrics.
On a few occasions, Foster’s laser-beam, full-tilt belt—“On My Way” from Millie was one example—overwhelmed the small Feinstein’s room. But something tells me that Foster’s a quick study, so I’d be surprised if she doesn’t have that solved by her last show.
Photo of Sutton Foster by Tim Schultheis