Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sutton Foster – An Evening With Sutton Foster – Live At The Café Carlyle


Sutton Foster – An Evening With Sutton Foster – Live At The Café Carlyle
2011, Ghostlight Records
Good actors can bend themselves to any role.  Great actors wrap a role around themselves like a second skin, becoming both themselves and the other.   For all of the acting classes and workshops one can take, this particular quality is not one that can be learned.  It’s a quality shared by some of the greatest names to grace the stages of the Great White Way:  Patti Lupone.  Bernadette Peters.  Angela Lansbury.  Kristin Chenoweth.  Sutton Foster. 
Sutton Foster made a name for herself as Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie, winning the 2002 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, as well as similar awards from Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and the Fred Astaire Award for best actress in a musical.  Foster has gone on to roles such as Jo March (Little Women – Tony, Outer Desk and Drama League nominations); Janet Van De Graaf (The Drowsy Chaperone – Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League and Outer Circle nominations) and Princess Fiona (Shrek The Musical – 2009 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical).  On March 10, 2011, Foster began previews at The Roundabout Theatre for the Cole Porter classic musical Anything Goes.  As if she’s not busy enough, Foster also released her second album, An Evening With Sutton Foster – Live At The Café Carlyle, this week.
Live albums are always a risk.  Even in an era where genius and technology can make a rough performance sound great after the fact, an artist is totally exposed in a live performance, and particularly in the intimate setting of a cabaret show.  At the same time, the magic that occurs on stage is ever-so-difficult to transfer to an audio recording.  Yet it’s delightful to report that Sutton Foster pulls it all off with unabashed charm on An Evening With Sutton Foster.  Culling songs from her debut album Wish, as well as from her previous work on Broadway, Foster charms with a blend of songs and stories that will entertain you, touch your heart and make you laugh out loud.
The show opens with “I’m Beginning To See The Light”, a Duke Ellington number performed by Foster with the sole accompaniment of ukulele.  It’s a brilliant opening full of showgirl zeal but with an air authenticity that simply cannot be manufactured.  Foster has one of those voices that rings in your mind for ever after hearing it, and is personality plus on stage.  Foster strings together snippets of songs from roles she’s played in a medley of “Not For The Life Of Me” (Thoroughly Modern Millie), “NYC” (Annie) and “Astonishing” (Little Women).  As medleys go this one works better than most, the transitions almost seamless, even if “Not For The Life Of Me” was cut woefully short.  “Up On The Roof” is offered in a sweet and lyric interpretation that’s full of heart and a sense of reminiscence about her early years in New York City.
Foster’s cover of Christine Lavin’s “Air Conditioner” is perhaps even funnier than the original, owing a great deal to the charm and pizzazz of the singer, qualities that wash through your speakers and bathe the listener whole.  Foster changes paces nicely with “Warm All Over”, a sultry and sweet take on the Frank Loesser tune from Most Happy Fella.  Foster rips off the roof (and a boob pad) in “Show Off”, one of the signature numbers from The Drowsy Chaperone.  The roof lands several blocks away, as Foster cranks it up with a powerful, thousand-watt performance; while the boob pad hilariously lands on her brother, Hunter Foster.  The show goes on, but the moment is timeless and thankfully not excised from the recording.
“More To The Story” is a song that was cut from Shrek: The Musical before it came to New York, and you have to wonder why.  After hearing Foster’s performance here you won’t be able to imagine the show without it.  Foster’s performance is full of heart and beauty that moves beyond music into the sublime.  “My Heart Was Set On You” is an amazing tune – a heartbreaker about forbidden love that works out the way everyone expected all along.  An inexorable tragedy in song that finds the heroine still somewhat in love even from the other side of heartbreak.  This is a pure “WOW” moment.  The transition into “Down With Love” (Hooray For What!) is classic, with Foster offering a quirky/sweet performance that is perhaps the perfect spoiler to the heartbreak that preceded it.
Foster pulls off another “WOW” moment on Duke Ellington’s “I Like The Sunshine”, offering a lyric performance full of vulnerability and hope that are palpable.  For a performer who can belt with such aplomb to be able to pull off a number like this is stunning.  A small lottery conducted by Music Director Michael Rafter leads next to a roof-raising performance of “Defying Gravity” (Wicked).  Dare it be said that Foster pulls it off as if she, herself, originated the role.  Foster puts on the faux ingénue qualities of a classic movie moll for “Late Late Show”, before moving into a sweet and lyric version of John Denver’s “Sunshine On My Shoulders”.  Foster gives up the belt here for a light and airy sound that highlights the utter beauty of her voice.  “Anyone Can Whistle/Being Alive” and “”Come The Wild Wild Weather” are both sweet numbers that serve as a bit of a respite for the singer before building to the big finale.  Foster begins the end with The Beatles’ “Here, There And Everywhere”.  Accompanied by banjo alone, Sutton Foster creates one of those pure musical moments that are steeped in an esoteric and timeless beauty that’s about as impossible to describe as it is to create in the first place.  It’s moments like this that concert goers remember all their lives.  As if that weren’t enough, Foster goes over the moon with “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)” from Dreamgirls.  If Foster blew the roof off earlier in the show, this number couldn’t have left a wall standing.
Sutton Foster is what is considered a triple threat on Broadway.  She sings, she dances and she acts.  But sometimes the term triple threat doesn’t even begin to explain what an actor can do.  Foster’s sense of showmanship combines with an utter authenticity that’s built on smarts, humor, a little bit of grit, and a healthy dose of southern charm and sophistication.  Add to that a voice that can lull you into the ether and then blow you away all in the same breath and you have a singular, rare talent who will be remembered for generations.  An Evening With Sutton Foster – Live At The Café Carlyle is a document and testament to talent, charm and grace to one of the leading ladies of the stage.  Sutton Foster shines bright.  An Evening With Sutton Foster – Live At The Café Carlyle can be nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Sutton Foster at http://www.suttonfoster.com/ or on FacebookAn Evening With Sutton Foster - Live At The Café Carlyle is available from Amazon.com as a  CD or DownloadThe album is also available from iTunes.