Broadway darling Sutton Foster is ready to make her mark in the West End with ‘Anything Goes’
Sutton Foster is getting acclimated to her London life. Speaking just days after she arrived in town during her mandated quarantine, Foster is getting herself set up on the Zoom, finding the most picturesque corner of her new flat, making sure there are no plants or photo frames coming out of her head.
She’s just arrived before rehearsals start for Anything Goes, the Kathleen Marshall-helmed revival that Foster led on Broadway in 2011 and will now mark her West End debut when it starts performances on 23 July.
“It feels like the perfect show to be making my West End debut,” says Foster, whose upbeat energy and fresh-faced glow radiates through a Zoom. “I love the show and I also feel like it's such a perfect show for this time, because it's just joyous and delightful and it's escapism. It was originally done during the Depression, and so it was one of those shows that brought joy to people. And I do feel like it's like champagne. And some of my most like thrilling moments I've ever had on stage have been doing the show.”
I was lucky enough to see Foster perform the role on Broadway in her Tony-winning performance, and even ten years on, it is still counted as one of my most revelatory experiences in the theatre. Foster is a true triple threat, and Reno allows her to showcase every skill, from extended tap dance breaks to belting to a character actress’s part disguised as a leading lady.
Foster’s bravado as Reno belies her more subdued nature in the interview, but as she starts talking about the character again, she begins gesticulating and moving about, almost as if the character is reawakening in her.
While Foster is a Broadway mainstay with two Tony Awards, one for Anything Goes, she is a relative unknown in London. Some theatre diehard fans will know her from YouTube clips of her Broadway performances (the Tony performance for Anything Goes is a favourite with more than 3 million views) or a few might be familiar with her for starring on the TV series Younger, which just concluded its seventh and final season, but for most Londoners, Sutton Foster is not a name they know. She’s starred on Broadway in shows like Thoroughly Modern Millie (her first Tony Award), Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, Shrek: The Musical, and more.
And Foster wasn’t initially slated to star in this production of Anything Goes. Megan Mullally (of Tv’s Will and Grace fame) was first announced to take on the role of the nightclub singer in the 1934 Cole Porter musical about a group of Americans traveling aboard a cruise ship back to London as various love affairs and hijinks ensue. When Mullally sustained an injury and had to drop out, Foster stepped to the plate.
“When Kathleen Marshall first approached me about it, I thought, ‘Oh, this could be like a really cool opportunity to like revisit something 10 years later,’” Foster says. “And to be able to use sort of my life experience in the last 10 years will add to the portrayal of Reno…Usually when you do a show and you say goodbye to it, you move on or you don't get a chance to come back, so there's something really exciting about it.”
As far as what she’s learned in the past 10 years that she’ll bring to the character, Foster is not sure. It’s been a busy 10 years for her: she got married, adopted her daughter Emily, lost her mother, starred on a TV show. Reno is mature and self-possessed with a lot of confidence and charisma, and Foster is excited to see how the character will manifest this time around.
“I always felt like I was like wearing my mom's clothes and I didn't feel like I was in her skin,” she says of playing the role 10 years ago. “I eventually sort of got there, but it took me a long time. And so, I'm curious, sort of starting off at this jumping point. I'm intimidated and scared, but for different reasons, mainly just because I'm like older and I'm a little more tired. I'm curious what the jumping off point will be this time around. I know that I have found her, so I do have like that sort of confidence that she is in there, but I'm curious… I kind of want to let her wash over me and sort of where will we meet up?”
Prior to arriving in the UK for this Anything Goes, which is schedule to run at the Barbican through October, Foster had never been to London for more than a span of a few days, so while the role is not new to her, she’s not familiar with the city and the theatre community.
After we spoke during her first few days in London, she began spending her day off each week doing “Family Fun Day” with her husband (screenwriter Ted Griffin) and her 4-year-old daughter Emily, exploring local parks and sites.
“It's been my dream to work in London,” she says. “I've always wanted to live here and I've always wanted to work here and now I get to do both.”
It’s bittersweet, however, to be returning to the stage so soon before Broadway truly reopens. (Foster will be back in lights in New York when she co-stars with Hugh Jackman in The Music Man, scheduled to start performances in December.) But she is still thrilled to be a part of the arts coming back and returning to the stage after more than a year away.
“It feels so exciting to be part of theatre coming back,” Foster says. “I never in a million years thought that what I did for a living would ever be gone. It's like this concept of Broadway, just all the dark theatres, or that what I did for a living requires people to gather and suddenly that's not a good thing.”
“It is a little weird coming back before the people in the States,” she adds, “But it is so exciting that so many shows have announced their return. This has been a long time coming and the second I land back in New York City, I'm going to see a show a night, so I can't wait.”
She did find ways to stay inspired and connected while theatres were shut, focusing on various creative projects from cooking to gardening to painting. She made some music with collaborators, creating an at-home recording studio like many artists, and she also started an online cooking show with a friend.
One of the things she worked on was a fitness series with her trainer Beth Nicely, of The Limit Fit. Foster met Nicely when she was working on Anything Goes on Broadway, as her physical therapist recommended she take Nicely’s class to maintain her fitness levels for the physically demanding show. Nicely has since started training Foster, and the two worked out together every Sunday on Instagram Live so that other people could participate in their workouts during lockdown.
“Physically — I don't want to jinx it — but I'm probably stronger now than I was when I started 10 years ago just because I've been working out with Beth,” Foster says, adding that she will be doing all the original choreography for the show. “She makes me do is she makes me jump rope and sing at the same time. And then she makes me do all these crazy things and she's like, "Okay, you're going to sing." And I'm like, "But I can't breathe." That's the biggest thing with Reno is that she's dancing, dancing, dancing, and then she turns around and she sings and it never, ever got easier. You know, it was always a challenge. It was always so hard.
“Because with Reno too, there's no effort,” she continues. “Everything's like, ‘Oh yeah, what this? Piece of cake.’ That's like half the battle because inside you're dying and then outside you have to be like, ‘No big deal. I do this all the time.’”
Foster also spent her time over the past year doing a lot of crafting (check out her Instagram for her crochet creations), and she wrote a memoir Hooked, which will be released in September, about her journey with crafting and how it connects to moments in her life. There’s a chapter on Anything Goes and the “bad ass” collage she made for the show on Broadway, and it reminds her of one of the themes of Reno’s character.
“I'm really excited about the book, terrified to put more of myself out into the world, but I'm really proud of it,” she says. “The book is about crafts, but it's also about the relationship with my mom who passed away in 2013. So, it's sort of unraveling, pun intended, and re-stitching my relationship with her through this book. I worked on it a lot during lockdown, during last year, and it was this incredibly cathartic and emotional thing. I felt like I was in therapy every day because I was rehashing and remembering the good and the bad. It feels true to me to be presenting my life in this way because I love what I do. I love singing. I love dancing. I love performing. I love all of those things, but this is like the thread that like sews everything together.”
And now a new chapter is beginning with Anything Goes, both a connection to her past self, and a way to explore how she’s grown and changed. And even though she has plenty of new life experiences and growth to bring to the character, she’s also excited to start fresh.
“I kind of want to come in with a lot of openness because it is a completely brand-new company and I'm the only one who will be like, "Well, when we did it back...,’” she says. “I don't want to do that, so I really want to come in and approach it as like, "All right, here we are. It's 2021. This entire world has just gone through something, is still going through something, and how do we approach this show right now during this time and with these people?" I'm really curious about all that.”