PROVO — BYU audiences, meet Sutton Foster. And Sutton Foster, meet your BYU audiences.
For her “An Evening with Sutton Foster” performances to open BYU’s Bravo! Professional Performing Arts series this weekend, the two-time Tony winner and Broadway luminary not only anticipates that the occasion will entertain concertgoers but also has a clear objective to introduce herself as an individual.
“One of the opportunities I have when I do these concerts is to show people a bit of an intimate look at me — as opposed to when you come to see a show like ‘Violet’ or ‘Shrek’ on Broadway,” she said.
Musical-theater enthusiasts cherish Foster's performances in an array of Broadway musicals, many of which include roles she created for their premieres. And these shows — “Little Women,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” along with “Shrek the Musical” — have become popularly produced in Utah. “Violet,” her third Jeanine Tesori-composed musical, after “Millie” and “Shrek,” recently completed a successful Broadway premiere.
“For this hour and a half or so in concert, I get to sing the songs I want to sing, with lyrics that speak to me, along with songs from the shows I’ve done,” Foster said in a Deseret News interview. “The concerts are from a point of view of me, as Sutton.”
She also intends to encourage a casual atmosphere that will allow audiences to establish a connection to her personally.
“It’s important for me to set a tone that’s laid-back, that we’re all in this together,” Foster said. “We’re all going to have a good time together.”
Her extraordinary vocal control and ability to interpret a song at a live venue were fully exhibited in a cabaret performance that was recorded for her CD “Live at the Cafe Carlyle,” which was released in March 2011.
The cabaret event prompted New York Times critic Stephen Holden to write, “The radiance of Julia Roberts and the zany spunk of Holly Golightly: that only begins to describe the seductive charms of Sutton Foster in her irresistible cabaret show.”
An indicator of the affable, carefree spirit she strives to engender at her live performances is her asking audience members to randomly select songs for her to sing from a specially marked mug. Each song is included in a binder she displays onstage with “The Big Book of Reeeeally High Belt Songs” as its title.
The big, belty songs have included “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Defying Gravity” and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” At the Cafe Carlyle performance, she announces the title of that lung-bursting song from “Dreamgirls” and offhandedly remarks, “Yeah, ’cause when you think of Sutton Foster ”
“We may do that,” Foster said when asked about whether the choose-a-song-at-random ritual would be a part of her Provo performance. “It adds a level of spontaneity and fun to the evening. We’re looking at our repertoire right now to make sure we have the best songs to perform.”
These brassy showstoppers, Foster said, are mixed with “simple little folk songs and material that speaks to me personally,” which in the past have included Carole King’s wistful “Up on the Roof,” popularized by the Drifters, and the contemplative title number from Stephen Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle.”
Foster demurred when asked which performance venue she prefers between the concert and theater stages.
“I really enjoy each,” she said. “I just finished four months performing on Broadway in ‘Violet,’ and I’m looking forward to doing these concerts. There’s really nothing that compares to having that immediate, shared experience with audiences.”
Foster has also become known for her TV roles, including the part of Michelle Simms on the short-lived “Bunheads,” which ran for one season on ABC Family.
She’s also looking forward to “Younger,” the single-camera comedy series with “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star as executive producer. The new show will begin filming in January.
If you go ...
What: "An Evening with Sutton Foster"
When: Sept. 5-6, 7:30 p.m.
Where: de Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, BYU, Provo
How much: $25-$60