Why Sutton Foster is Resume Goals

Two Tony Awards? Check.

Dance moves better than yours? Check.

A proven record on television? Check.

Well, there’s no doubt about it- Ms. Sutton Lenore Foster has the resume that every performer wants.

As one of Broadway’s most popular leading ladies, Sutton is one of those chameleon actresses, one that can slip in and out of almost any brassy role in the theatre canon. She manages to create portrayals that are both sweet and sassy. This, in turn, has earned her a very devoted fanbase. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about her is that, unlike most stage stars, she’s also managed to transition into the elusive entertainment medium of screen.

Most recently, as if she weren’t enough of a superhero…Sutton added “Mom” to her list of roles by adopting a little girl. In today’s entry- which just happens to be my 250th- I’m going to take you on a little tour of Sutton Foster’s career highlights.

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photo credit: Joan Marcus

In 2002’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, she looked absolutely stunning in this iconic red dress and tap-danced her way to her first Tony Award win. At this year’s Tony Awards ceremony, she presented costar Gavin Creel with his first prize for Hello Dolly! (Don’t you just love full-circle moments?)

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In 2006, Sutton failed to prove she wasn’t a “Show Off” in the beloved, nostalgic romp known as The Drowsy Chaperone. In this musical-within-a-comedy, she played an actress portraying a bride-to-be named Janet. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it makes much more sense when you see it take shape onstage!

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She snagged her 2nd Tony Award for the 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Sutton played Reno Sweeney, the sexy songstress who actually makes a living as an evangelist. Opposite fellow Broadway heavyweight Joel Grey, she knocked standards like “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Blow Gabriel Blow” out of the park.

"Younger" (Ep. 201- Airs January 13, 2016)

After making her mark on the short-lived ABCFamily show Bunheads, Sutton finally struck oil with TVLand’s hit program Younger. On this show, she portrays Liza, a 40something writer who ever-so-slightly fakes her age to get ahead in her career. The series is now in its 4th season.

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But just because she’s now a television name doesn’t mean that Sutton is abandoning her theatre roots. In fact, just last year, she headlined the critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Sweet Charity. Extended multiple times, the show has generated rumors of a Broadway transfer. Is there anything this woman can’t nail?

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A Tale of Two Show Boats

One of my favorite musicals ever is the groundbreaking Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein piece called Show Boat. Although I have never seen it live, I did watch the Papermill Playhouse production that PBS recorded…it was during my high school Musical Theatre class. I remember being blown away by the grand set designs, the gorgeous music, and the heartbreaking story that also managed to be very hopeful.

Anyway, when I was a teenager, I acquired a CD of the 1965 Lincoln Center Show Boat, which starred Barbara Cook, Constance Towers, and William Warfield. I loved this recording because everyone was in fine voice and the orchestra was amazing. I was also annoyed at this recording because it didn’t include the complete score of this phenomenal show. But it was all I had.

And because it was all I had, fast-forward to the premiere BroadwayCon in 2016. There, I got an autograph from Rebecca Luker, who played Magnolia Hawks in the 1994 Broadway staging of the piece. (Magnolia is one of my bucket list roles, incidentally.) Since I only had the Barbara Cook production, I asked her to sign that, which she happily did. So, I have the wrong recording of Show Boat signed by Rebecca Luker.

Picture it: Midtown Manhattan, the last day of February, 2017. I’m on lunch break and decide to stop by the secondhand electronics/bookstore. I browse through the music section and choose the Almost Famous soundtrack for my boyfriend; it’s one of his favorite movies. A few minutes later, I find- wait for it- the 1994 Broadway cast CD of Show Boat, starring…Rebecca Luker!

Both discs cost $5, and you really can’t ask for a better deal than that. So I headed for the cashier, two items in hand and a silly grin on my face. The moral of the story: now I just need this album signed by Barbara Cook and I’ll be in business!

I don’t know…were you able to follow this story? Or are y’all feeling a bit like the secretary in Cagney right now?

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(Thanks to BroadwayBox for creating this magical thing.)

For Your Consideration: The Voyage of the S.S. American and all that followed

This weekend, I boarded the S.S. American for a 2nd time by attending Wagner College’s production of Anything Goes. Or did I? You see, Cole Porter’s seaworthy tour-de-force is one of those rare shows that has gone through multiple script alterations over the course of its production history. Originally premiering in 1934, the musical underwent major changes in the book and score for its first revival in 1962…and then again in 1987! The first time I saw Anything Goes, it was the 1987 version. Wagner’s production used the 1962 book and songs, so I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two.

The big standards are all there: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and the title number. But they are in different spots; for instance, in 1962, “You’re the Top” opened the show, while in 1987, the first number was “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Both songs are sung by Reno Sweeney to Billy Crocker, but the latter arrangement greatly implies the past romantic undertones of their relationship. The former, to me, conveys that they’ve always been just good friends.

Music that appears only in the 1962 version includes “Let’s Misbehave,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” “Let’s Step Out,” and “Heaven Hop.” All four are essentially filler songs. The latter two are sung by the gangster’s girlfriend (Bonnie/Erma) and were replaced by a much better character song called “Buddie Beware” in 1987. In Wagner’s production, the actress playing this character (Natalie Schaffer) was a terrific dancer. Almost too good, in fact- she was featured in every big hoofing scene, even ones where she necessarily didn’t need to be.

The plot of both versions follows basically the same premise…madcap things occur on a cruise ship, mistaken identity abounds, lovers divided get coincided. However, I feel that the 1987 script tells the story much more cohesively than this one did. I’m not sure how to explain it; it was just…tighter. As my date put it, the 1962 plot “is slightly unhinged.”

However, Broadway veteran Michele Pawk (who directed the show here) certainly knew her piece and how to play the right moments for laughs. “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes” were fantastic to watch, largely due to the perfectly-cast leading lady: Miss Sophia Tzougros. She had all the makings of a good Reno, and I detected notes of Patti LuPone in her performance. (Did I mention her dresses were also to die for?!)

Other standouts in the cast included Lauren Dennis and Rebecca Marlowe as Hope Harcourt and her mother, respectively. Sadly, the 1962 script doesn’t do Hope’s character any favors: she only gets a big solo number in the 1987 version. Marlowe was so committed to Mrs. Harcourt that I’d have never thought she was under the age of 21. Unfortunately, that role also figures more prominently in 1987’s script.

Okay, so you’ve probably guessed it by now…I think 1987 gave us the best scope of how Anything Goes in this world. However, as far as 1962 goes, Wagner College gave us what’s probably the best interpretation of that material. Ironically, the school’s next production will be Maury Yeston’s Titanic…and you can’t expect a happy ending from that ship show!

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Spotlight: Spending a White Christmas at the Holiday Inn

Kicking off the holiday season, we’ll be taking a look at two of the most popular seasonal movie musicals ever made- and compare/contrast them a little bit since they’re often confused with one another. One thing they DO have in common- Irving Berlin is responsible for the music in both.

Holiday Inn.

White Christmas.

The popular song “White Christmas” is NOT from the film White Christmas. It is from Holiday Inn, which was released in 1942, and is actually not a strictly-Christmas movie. When we hear the word “holidays,” it’s true that the winter ones are usually the first that come to mind. But did we not forget about Thanksgiving, 4th of July, etc.? Yup! Holiday Inn is a story about ALL American festivities. In fact, the entire film follows a year-in-the-life of this little hotel that is only open on those special days. It stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. And it is indeed the movie in which we first heard Crosby croon “White Christmas,” which won the Academy Award that year for Best Original Song. Other well-known songs in this include “You’re So Easy to Dance With” and even “Easter Parade.”

The film White Christmas came along more than a decade later, in 1954. Some think it is a loose remake of Holiday Inn. It does star Bing Crosby yet again- but this time his right hand man is Danny Kaye. Rosemary Clooney also appears as one of the famous “Sisters” and the love interest of Crosby’s character. Naturally, he gets to sing his signature holiday tune in this one; you can also hear him on the Irving Berlin standards “Snow” and “Count Your Blessings.” The latter earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song but did not win.

Both White Christmas and Holiday Inn were adapted for the stage, as is the natural order of things I suppose, within the past ten years. The former made it to Broadway first, and the latter is now being staged in a world premiere production at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Musicals. Which of the two stories do you prefer? Let me know!

On a related note: the Puccini’s Chronicles theme for the month of December will be MYSTERY and INTRIGUE onstage. What are some of your favorite whodunit books? Have they translated successfully to the stage or screen? What techniques do you think work well for building suspense in dramas?

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Great Deals on MGM and Warner Bros. Musical DVD Sets

Each of the following packs contains four classic musical movies- and all of them are under $20 at Barnes and Noble (which, I’ve discovered, is also a great place to find OBC recordings of shows). That’s less than $5 per film; you really can’t beat that. Below, I will show you the sets and give you my opinion on them to help you make the best purchase choices.

HOWARD KEEL COLLECTION: This is probably my favorite of all the boxed sets. I never realized how many romantic lead roles Howard Keel played until I found this set for $9.99 at Target (it’s a bit pricier at Barnes and Noble). So I just HAD to buy it. Most of the appeal of this one will come from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, widely considered one of the greatest movie musicals ever made, but you’ll also get a double dose of Kathryn Grayson. Although this version of Show Boat doesn’t follow the stage play very closely, she and Keel still sound great in it. All in all, I really recommend this pack.

ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: This is a really fun set, particularly because I LOVE Top Hat. It features the timeless music of Irving Berlin and enough screwball plot twists to keep you laughing from start to finish. Of the four, the only one I’d never heard of was Swing Time- and I think it’s safe to assume that like the others, it will have plenty of mind-blowing dance numbers. This is Fred Astaire, after all. I should note that this pack is the most expensive of the four I’m showing you, so if you’re the frugal kind, this might not be your perfect match.

GENE KELLY COLLECTION: Four words- An American in Paris. That film alone is reason to buy this- because George and Ira Gershwin- but let’s take a look at the other movies in here. Singin’ in the Rain is noticeably absent, but this set does have On the Town and Brigadoon- the former is more of a dance story and the latter is more about the singing. I don’t know anything about Anchors Aweigh, I’m sorry to admit. Whether or not you buy this pack will largely depend on how you feel about Gene Kelly. He was one of the greatest song-and-dance men who ever lived, certainly, but he was also known for being a difficult person on the set.

JUDY GARLAND AND MICKEY ROONEY COLLECTION: This set saddens me a little bit because it limits the films to ones with Garland and Rooney together- and I would have loved to see Meet Me in St. Louis or Easter Parade in the pack. Oh well, c’est la vie. There is still some really good stuff here. My favorites are Girl Crazy (Gershwin again!) and Strike Up the Band, while Babes in Arms tends to remind me of why Richard Rodgers was better with Hammerstein than Hart. Also, I should warn that Babes on Broadway contains a minstrel show scene, so if you are offended by that, you might want to skip this collection.

A Filler Entry…But…

Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry this week’s blog entry is so late; it’s been a weird week and the thing I WAS planning for you hasn’t quite pulled through yet. So here’s a simple MGM-related classic for you to chew on in the meantime- and I promise that this week I’ll have something extra-special ready!

Quite possibly the most popular film of all time, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (based on the book by L. Frank Baum) recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. Everyone knows that Judy Garland had her breakthrough performance in this movie as Dorothy- but did you also know that she wasn’t the first choice for the role? That’s right- they originally wanted Shirley Temple for the part, but Temple was off-limits due to her contract with 20th Century Fox. So Garland stepped into the ruby slippers, joining an all star cast of Billie Burke (aka Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld) as Glinda the Good Witch, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Bert Lahr as the Lion, Frank Morgan as the Wizard, and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.

I remember The Wizard of Oz as being one of the first movies I fell in love with as a kid, so it still holds a special place in my heart today. In fact, I have a “magic flip book” commemorating the 75th anniversary that my dad got me at Universal Studios as well as a Glinda Barbie that sits proudly on my shelf. Next up, I may have a full circle moment when a theatre company in my hometown mounts an onstage production in early 2015. Here’s hoping that whatever incarnation of this timeless story comes along, that you too shall smile and sing about “the merry old land of Oz.”

Spotlight: MGM’s THE BAND WAGON takes center stage in NYC

Opening nights of new shows are always exciting. Not only for the actors and crew who’ve been working on it for a while and watching it materialize, but for the audience as well, anticipating that they will share in that energy. That will all happen tonight at NY City Center, where a new stage adaptation of the classic film The Band Wagon is debuting. Like many MGM musicals of its day, The Band Wagon follows a typical showbiz plot- a washed-up star tries a new performing venture, falling in love and encountering a colorful and sometimes explosive cast of characters along the way. Of course, the story wouldn’t be complete without some Great American Songbook fun and stunning dance numbers; in fact the original movie starred Fred Astaire, and I’ve heard one source use the following analogy.

Fred Astaire is to The Band Wagon as Gene Kelly is to Singin’ in the Rain. Gee, if questions on the SAT were like that, a lot more artsy kids would get good scores, I think.

Anyway, dancing his way into Astaire’s part is Broadway veteran Brian Stokes Mitchell, known for his roles in Kiss Me Kate and Ragtime. Opposite him is one of the most popular leading ladies to tread the boards in recent years- Cinderella and Bonnie and Clyde‘s Laura Osnes. Tracey Ullman (the movies of Once Upon a Mattress and Into the Woods) and character actor Michael McKean also star as feuding theatre collaborators/spouses, and rounding out the main players is Tony nominee Michael Sheldon (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) as the tightly-wound director. Wow- if that’s not a cast, I don’t know what is.

The production will be directed by famed choreographer Kathleen Marshall, who headed Nice Work If You Can Get It and the most recent revival of Anything Goes. Here’s a fun convolution- Tracey Ullman just wrapped up Into the Woods, and that was directed by Rob Marshall, the brother of Kathleen!

All in all, I wish I could go and see this one. It’s got all the elements that make for a great show- and I would definitely do a review for all of you. But, in spite of my own misfortune, I encourage all of you in the neighborhood to try catching a performance. If you can, remember to come back to Puccini’s Chronicles and share what you thought! Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased here.

Oh, one more thing- did you figure out the answer to the question I posed in my last entry? These three people are St. Genesius, St. Clare, and St. Cecilia; they are all patron saints of the performing arts! Specifically, Genesius is the patron of actors, Clare is the patroness of television, and Cecilia is the patroness of musicians.

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We Bid “Au Revoir” to Opera-Comique…and share some news.

Good afternoon, dilettantes! I hope all of you had a fun and safe Halloween and are looking forward to this month of November, as we prepare for the holidays, eat lots of tasty foods, and give thanks for the wonderful things in our life.

To kick things off, we’re saying adieu to opera-comique with a nod to a French opera composed by an Italian guy- Donizetti’s La fille du regiment. Unlike Carmen and Manon, this work actually ends happily, as lovers are reunited, families tied together, and nobody ends up dead. Though predictably the leading lady (Marie) is a soprano, what I find interesting about La fille du regiment is that it actually features a principal role for a contralto- the Marquise. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that I rather like her- she is a dynamic character with a secret that only gets revealed when she takes Marie under her wing. But that’s not the only interesting thing about the characters of this opera.

Perhaps the work is most widely known for an aria belonging to the lead tenor- “Ah, mes amis, quel jour de fete!” Why, you ask? Because it requires the performer to hit nine high Cs. That’s right, NINE. Therefore, it only makes sense that the piece was a staple of the late great “King of the High Cs,” Luciano Pavarotti. Hearing Pavarotti sing the last section of this aria was one of my first exposures to a great tenor; I marveled at that spectacular capability of the human voice.

And now it’s time to move onto the theme for the month of November…MGM musical films! The classic movie musicals of MGM are so timeless that they are still aired and watched by scores of people today. They featured big stars, jaw-dropping dance sequences, and music that has become part of the Great American Songbook. Some of the movies have even found a life onstage through adaptation. Also- if you haven’t already noticed, there is a new link on our site to The Fanciullas- our own awards ballot for classical music. It will mainly serve as a way for me to get feedback on what’s most popular on Puccini’s Chronicles, so I encourage you to fill out the survey.

Thank you in advance, and with that, I leave you with Pavarotti’s performance of the tenor showstopper from La fille du regiment.

Spotlight: Most Guys Today That Women Prize Today Are Just Silly Gigolos

In four days, a very important musical collaboration is going to hit the store shelves. After working together on a cover of “The Lady is a Tramp,” Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga are teaming up again for a full album of Great American Songbook hits, Cheek to Cheek. And I, lovely dilettantes, could not be more excited.

I don’t care how you feel about Lady Gaga. The fact that she is on the front-lines of this project sends an important message to her young fans; namely, that classic tunes are still relevant. She herself has a background in musical theatre, having played Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and Philia in Forum at her high school. It is my hope that this generation will be pulled into Cheek to Cheek by Gaga’s attachment to it and be exposed to the Great American Songbook. There’s a reason these songs are still being performed 70 years later, and so educating kids on them is super important to their cultural and artistic development. Oh sure, some haters are saying that Gaga should stay mainstream, and I wish I were kidding about that- but the fact remains that we must preserve the quality (re: brilliant) music of yesteryear. Furthermore, I’ve listened to a couple of tracks from the album; Tony Bennett’s smooth jazz voice blends really well with Gaga’s, and they sound like they’ve had a lot of fun with this record.

On the standard CD, there are 11 tracks, but I would recommend getting the Target Deluxe version which has more tracks as well as two bonus numbers that are Broadway standards: “Bewitched” from Pal Joey and the title song from On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. For more information, visit the album’s official website.

Happy crooning!