By Patricia Morris Buckley
SDUN Theatre Critic
It’s no wonder that she was recently selected as one of the “Top 40 Musical Theatre Legends” from 1900 to today. But that honor hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“Honestly? Totally surreal,” she said from New York City, where she is appearing off-Broadway in “Trust.” “I don’t think I’m quite a ‘legend’ though.”
While Sutton had paid her dues in small roles in New York, it’s in La Jolla that she got her big break. She was the understudy for the lead role in the La Jolla Playhouse’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and eventually took on the role before the show moved to Broadway. She went on to win a Tony Award for her work.
She recently released her debut album, “Wish,” which has a wide variety of music on it, from jazz to pop to cabaret to the Broadway tunes she’s best known for. She is returning to San Diego for a one-night concert on Oct. 1 at the Balboa Theatre.
“The show in San Diego will be mostly based around the album but also feature songs from all of the shows I have done on Broadway in the past eight years,” she said, “plus some surprises here and there. My music director, Michael Rafter, and I met doing ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ nine years ago. When my run was done at ‘Millie,’ we began collaborating and searching for material and songs that spoke to both of us. It’s a complete collaboration between Michael and I, as well as our director Mark Waldrop. We just started bringing in songs and music that spoke to us. We were both drawn to a lot of folk and jazz…and the album started to take shape around that vibe.
Creating a concert is very different from appearing in a musical. That’s something she’s very aware of.
“In a show you can hide behind costumes and wigs and eyelashes, but doing a concert you are much more exposed because you are playing yourself,” she admitted. “My goal is to connect with the audience, to be as authentic as I can be and hopefully share with them a more personal side of who I am as a person and an artist.”
That doesn’t mean she’s giving up acting—far from it. She is currently appearing in “Trust.”
“It’s an incredible new play by Paul Weitz,” she said. “It’s a four-person play about control/power/relationships/money. My character works as a dominatrix. So that has been an incredible experience to do something so different. It’s been liberating and empowering!
“I believe that every character is filtered through who you are as a person,” she said. “So I try to first find all the similarities that I share with a character—to bring as much of myself and those sides of myself to the parts I play. I think [my favorite role has been] Princess Fiona in ‘Shrek.’ Playing a bi-polar burping and farting princess was pretty awesome.”
In addition to acting and giving concerts, Sutton also teaches at New York University and Ball State University. Why add teaching to an already busy schedule?
“I have always wanted to be a teacher,” she explained. “To be able to share my experiences and what I have learned thus far with young people and the next generation of actors is an honor. I love it. And I hope I can continue to incorporate it throughout my career.”
Even with a thriving New York career, she’s eager to return to San Diego.
“I love San Diego,” she said. “People always ask me where would I live if I couldn’t live in New York and it’s always San Diego. I’ve played there several times on tour and I’ve worked at the La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe. It’s just a great city and the beaches are heavenly. I hope I have time to have a bonfire on the beach.”
“An Evening with Sutton Foster”
Oct. 1, 8 p.m.
868 Fourth Ave.