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A Thoroughly Delightful Evening With Sutton Foster -- Concert / Theater Review with Setlist

Concert / Theater Review

An Evening with Sutton Foster
Broadway Playhouse, Chicago
Thru September 26

I wouldn't be surprised if you aren't familiar with Sutton Foster. Although she has originated five leading roles on Broadway in the past decade, won one Tony and was nominated for three others, I imagine her Q rating (i.e. level of mass recognition) on a national level is less than many reality TV stars.

That's reality--and I doubt the winsome Foster is anything but grateful for her considerable success in the musical theater realm--but also a shame. For as she demonstrated last night at Chicago's new Broadway Playhouse, as well as on the Great White Way, Sutton Foster is one of the most appealing and vocally talented performers I have ever seen. She really should be a true American idol.

And in a previous age, Foster might have been Julie Andrews, Mary Martin or a young Ethel Merman, Broadway leading ladies who became well-known across the country and later transitioned into Hollywood.

Even though my most avid theatergoing friend in Chicago had never heard of her, for those who pay close attention to Broadway itself, Foster's '42nd Street'-like rise from a chorus girl in an out-of-town run of Thoroughly Modern Millie to leading lady by the time it hit New York has been well-told. She had already some nice credits to her name--including Broadway revivals of Grease, Annie and Les Miserables--but 'Millie' made her a Broadway star and the 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.

I saw her in that show--although it took two trips to New York in 2003 do so due to a writers' strike the first time I had tickets--and was instantly smitten. Sutton was thoroughly magnificent and I was further enamored when she fulfilled a request to autograph my ticket by mail.

Subsequently I had a ticket to see her on Broadway in Little Women, but it closed before I got there, I saw her in The Drowsy Chaperone and I saw Young Frankenstein with her in the cast, but got an understudy. She also starred in Shrek the Musical which I never got to in NYC (and though I read of a possibility she would come to Chicago with the touring cast, that didn't happen).

So though I should've seen her a good bit more then the twice I already had, this explains why I joined a solid but not sold-out crowd at the Broadway Playhouse, which Broadway In Chicago has modernized from the recently built but more ostentatious Drury Lane Theater at Water Tower Place.

And it should also explain why it wasn't a surprise that Foster was fantastic in interpreting a range of songs in different styles, from "Up On The Roof" (made famous by James Taylor) to "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, a song that was picked from a jar as one of five possible choices in that slot.

About half of Foster's setlist, which I jotted down as best I could and have included below, was comprised of numbers on her new album, Wish. And from reading some reviews from elsewhere on her tour, as well as the Tribune's glowing review of Thursday night's performance, it seems for the most part it's a pretty standard set.

No reason it shouldn't be, as accompanied by great arrangements by music director and pianist Michael Rafter, Foster does a remarkable job on songs she clearly loves and demonstrates tremendous range and  dexterity across them all. Having read that she recently went through a divorce, it was apparent that she's unafraid to show vulnerability and wistfulness in songs like "My Heart Was Set On You" and "Once Upon A Time." But in relaying a story about how a flight from Seattle to New York had to make an emergency landing in Chicago, and a hard one at that, Foster showed through a song like Sondheim's "Being Alive" how irrepressible she is in looking forward.

And her take on "Show Off" from The Drowsy Chaperone was loads of fun, as she effectively downsized what was a big Broadway production number into a cabaret setting with just a microphone, but still managed to include an onstage dress change and other imaginative bits.

All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful evening, though as one minor lament, at 80 minutes it was a bit short. I was thrilled to get a ticket for just $25 at the door (and thanks again to the cute girl in the box office for letting me know they would be releasing more), but had I paid nearly $100 with Ticketmaster fees for one of the top seats, I might have felt a tad shortchanged.

And while Foster has put together a great set of music showcasing her new album, which I look forward to getting, I think she would do well to extend beyond her comfort range. Her ability to tackle diverse showtunes and easy listening pop songs is so great that I would love to hear what she might do with a Beatles song or something even more less obvious.

But in a year in which I've seen showcase performances including Broadway legends like Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, George Hearn and Audra McDonald, the fact that Sutton Foster's concert was the best of its sort--and one of the most pleasing of any type--says a helluva lot. As she said in a shout out to her high school drama teacher from Troy, Michigan, who was in the audience, "You did good." (Tickets should be available for her performances tonight and Sunday afternoon, through Ticketmaster or at the venue). 

Sutton Foster set list from 9/24/10:

1. Something's Coming - from West Side Story
2. NYC - from Annie
3. Up On the Roof - James Taylor song by Goffin/King
4. Air Conditioner - by Christine Lavin
5. Warm All Over - from The Most Happy Fella
6. Show Off - from The Drowsy Chaperone
7. Supposin' / Say That - outtake from Thoroughly Modern Millie
8. More to the Story - outtake from Shrek
9. My Heart Was Set On You - by Jeff Blumenkrantz
10. I Like The Sunshine - by Duke Ellington
11. Defying Gravity - from Wicked
12. The Late, Late Show - by Alfred/Berlin
13. Sunshine on My Shoulders - a John Denver song
14. Anyone Can Whistle - from Anyone Can Whistle
15. Being Alive - from Company
16. Come the Wild, Wild Weather - by Noel Coward
17. Once Upon A Time - from All American
18. Gimme Gimme - from Thoroughly Modern Millie

To serve as a better introduction to Sutton, here are a couple old videos of songs she sang last night:

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