Don’t let Sutton Foster fool you. In her new show “An Evening With Sutton Foster” at the Café Carlyle (June 15-26, 2010), she comes on looking peaches-and-cream radiant like the proverbial girl next door, all smiles and with a glow of open-faced innocence. But when she sings a song like “Warm All Over,” she glows with a feeling of smoky sexuality. The beauty of it is that unlike a singer who outwardly flaunts sexuality, Sutton Foster lets it emerge from the depth of her delivery of the lyrics and makes you feel there is explosiveness within her.
Versatility is a precious commodity for a singer. Foster has cornered the market. Her range is exciting. Her appearances in Broadway shows (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Shrek the Musical,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Young Frankenstein”) have revealed her as an outstanding musical comedy actress. This acting ability heightens her delivery in her new stint as a cabaret artist. She also has another valuable asset—a bright, appealing personality. When you blend those qualities with the range of her vocal prowess, you have a wonderfully entertaining act at top level hard to match.
In addition to putting over such numbers as “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Down With Love,” “N.Y.C,” “ My Heart Was Set On You” “Being Alive,” “Anyone Can Whistle,” and “Late Late Show,” Foster can unfurl comic surprises, as when she tears into “Air Conditioner,” with its amusing notion that “All you need is an air conditioner and you’re the man for me.”
She scores another coup when she strips away her initial sedate dress to reveal a sexy purple number beneath and romps through “I Don’t Want to Show Off No More,” with behavior that signals exactly the opposite. What’s more, she pulls out two falsies and tosses them into the audience. When to you see anyone do that?
But that’s child’s play compared to what I saw her do on the night I attended. Foster has cups labeled “Ho” and “Pimp,” and she makes a to-do about extracting slips of paper with song titles at random for her to choose and sing. After some manipulation to get what she preferred to do at the moment, she launched into “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls,” sung on Broadway by Jennifer Holliday and in the film by Jennifer Hudson. Foster gave a fabulous imitation of the sort of belting associated with them, only more so, thanks to the satirical twist that she piled on in her own over-the-top style. I can only say wow, as more than anything else on the program this cemented the impression of her breadth of talent.
The musical accompaniment is finely geared to her needs, with Michael Rafter as her pianist and arranger and Kevin Kuhn on guitar plus banjo and ukulele. Director Mark Waldrop deserves credit, as the show moves along with easy-going smoothness, yet one knows how much work it takes to make everything seem so natural. At the Café Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street.