Sutton Foster looked anything but like a Broadway superstar when she made her Palladium debut in Carmel Saturday. Accompanied on piano by her long-time music director Michael Rafter, she performed a benefit concert on behalf of Actors Theatre of Indiana, which is a resident company of the Center for the Performing Arts, with its home in The Studio Theater.
The fresh-faced performer, dressed in a simple shift dress, with long hair parted in the middle and falling to her shoulders, and wearing no jewelry and little make-up, looked like the girl next door, but when she opened her mouth to sing, one quickly realized why she won two Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Leading Lady in a musical.
Foster’s diverse program included songs from Broadway, the American Songbook, pop and some offbeat selections as well. Some of the songs, explained Foster, might be used in an album she and Rafter are assembling and which they were trying out in the concert.
Light on banter with the audience, the likeable Foster came off as a low-key, with a droll sense of humor, as well as someone who does not take herself too seriously, and whose music and formidable talent speaks for itself. Blessed with a voice that is pure of tone and stupendous for its power and range, Foster dazzled the enthusiastic audience (many of them Ball State University students, about which more details will follow). Her skills as a gifted actor and story teller also shone through as she interpreted the lyrics of each and every song she sang with insightful skill.
Opening her show with “Nice and Easy,” by Lew Spence/Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Foster next referenced her Broadway background with a medley of song excerpts from “Little Women,” “Annie” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” — all shows she appeared in. Afterwards she sang Hoagy Carmichael’s “Nearness of You” followed by Christine Lavin’s lighthearted “Air Conditioner.”
Other highlights from Foster’s one hour show included a mesmerizing “Warm All Over,” from “Most Happy Fella” and Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Crowd favorites were the sweet “My Heart is Set On You,” by Jeff Blumenkrantz, and Rupert Holmes’ wistful “The People That You Never Get to Love.”
The Ball State students present, of which there were a hundred or so, were pretty vocal in response to Sutton’s performance. No surprise, considering that she happens to be on the faculty as a teacher and advisor to the school’s theatre and dance department. She has even received an honorary doctorate from BSU with which she has been associated for the past seven years.
An added attraction of Sutton’s concert was the appearance of five BSU theater students and alumni. After being introduced by Sutton, they performed three songs from “The Circus in Winter” Under the direction of theater professor Beth Turcotte, the musical is an adaptation of Hoosier author Cathy Day’s novel of the same title. It was not only performed at BSU, but also in NYC in Oct. of 2011 as one of eight productions at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre 24th Festival of New Musicals. Sutton is an advisor for the production, which is still in development.
The talent students who performed three songs from the musical (A reading will be presented at the ATI in December), included Ben Clark on guitar, Jonathan Jensen, Samantha Malone, Krystal Worrell and percussionist Nick Rapley.
Charismatic Clark, who is the show’s composer and lyricist, gave an astonishing vocal performance of “Never Alone,” featuring lyrics such as: “Whiskey works best when you know/You’ll be plannin’ on sleepin’/ people do tricks when they’re scared of bein’ alone/we’ll find our way home if we’re lost/and we’ll be forgiven/I spent my whole life by myself and I’ll not be dyin’ alone.”
When Sutton returned to the stage after the students’ performance that garnered them a standing ovation, she intoned “Ben Clark — remember that name,” to the audience. Hers was a well-deserved validation of a young artist whose talents portend a successful future.
Sutton continued her set with more songs that showcased her versatility. They included “Georgia on My Mind,” which she said was a tribute, and an affectionate one at that, to the state she grew up in and John Denver’s “Sunshine on my Shoulders."
The strongest statement about Sutton’s enormous capacity as a performer came near the end of her act when she sang Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Listen,” from the musical of the same name and an expansive version of “Being Alive” from “Company.”
Reminding the audience of why she won one of her Tonys, Foster ended the evening with an ebullient flourish when she sang “Anything Goes,” from the musical of the same name, as her encore.
For tickets and information about Actors Theatre of Indiana call (317) 843-3800 or visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.
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