Broadway megastar Sutton Foster was the headliner Saturday for an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Pops concert, “An Evening with Sutton Foster,” led by Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. Though I have never seen her perform on Broadway, I had the great pleasure of experiencing her uncommon talent on two previous occasions when she appeared in Central Indiana. The first time was when she performed at The Palladium in a benefit for Actors Theatre of Indiana in 2013 and the most recent was when she made her debut at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club in 2015.
For those unaware of Foster’s sterling credentials, they are exemplary. She won a Tony Award for her role as Violet in “Anything Goes,” and also starred in “Shrek,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Little Women,” and others. Also a television actor, Foster is currently starring in the TV Land series, “Younger.” A recording artist as well, Foster’s albums include “Wish,” and “An Evening with Sutton Foster: Live at the Café Carlyle”
Accompanied by her long-time music director and collaborator Michael Rafter, the tall and slim, girlish and gregarious Foster, dressed in red pants and a matching top and wearing silver-strapped heels, took to the stage after the ISO opened the concert with a medley of songs from “Funny Girl.”
A mashup of “A Cockeyed Optimist” from “South Pacific” and “Everybody Says Don’t” from “Anyone Can Whistle” was Foster’s first song in Act 1, during which she utilized her clear-as-a-bell, toned soprano voice to either croon or belt selections, which included a medley of Cole Porter songs, such as “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “C’est Magnifique,” and “Give Him the Ooh-La-La.” Telling the audience that Jason Robert Brown is her favorite composer, she sang his “It All Fades Away.” Foster closed her first set with “Anything Goes,” the title song of the musical that contributed to her fame as a Broadway leading lady.
Act 2 commenced with Foster, dressed this time in a simple ankle-length frock, singing a very cleverly arranged mashup of “If I Were a Bell” from “Guys and Dolls,” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” the title song of the 1952 film. Then, she followed with a very soulful rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” accompanied only by Rafter on the piano.
A highlight of the concert was a moving performance by the 2019 class of Bachelor of Fine Arts students from Ball State University, where Foster is on the adjunct faculty and from where she holds an honorary degree. Performing on the rear balcony above the orchestra, the well-trained students sang an interpretation of Cole Porter’s melancholic “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” After their performance, Foster remarked that the young performers “Give me hope,” a sentiment that I also felt while listening to them.
Following the Ball State students’ number, another touching moment occurred when Foster sang a reflective rendition of John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” which she said was a favorite song of her late mother to whom she paid tribute.
One of my favorite selections during Foster’s second set was yet another mashup, Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle,” the title song of the musical and “Being Alive” from “Company.”
For an encore, Foster once again demonstrated her Broadway-caliber voice, blessed with power and range, when she sang “Gimme Gimme” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” another musical which helped establish her as one of the shining stars of the Great White Way.
It’s no secret that Broadway music is my favorite genre, so as one can imagine, I was in total ecstasy during Foster’s concert, witnessing one of musical theatre’s finest artists at work. Coupled with the music of the always-exceptional ISO, it was a concert that I will long remember for its visceral impact.
For tickets and information about the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s 2018-2019 season, call (317) 439-4300 or go to indianpolissymphony.org.