Performance review: Sutton Foster at the Orange County Performing Arts Center
The role of the all-American ingénue turned New York diva comes naturally to Sutton Foster. “I was the girl in those songs,” the Tony-winning star said Thursday during her cabaret performance at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, after singing a medley of tunes from three of her Broadway performances: "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Annie" and "Little Women."
Foster has a practical, self-deprecating demeanor and the big voice and long arms of a stage queen -- or at least a Princess Fiona, her last star turn (in "Shrek: The Musical").
Foster’s best when she’s playful about her prodigious talent and homespun beauty. She romped through “I Don’t Want To Show Off,” from "The Drowsy Chaperone," with goofball charm, ripping falsies out of her dress (then retrieving them from an audience member). In perhaps a Samueli first, she displayed her pair of “Pimp” and “Ho” goblets. Making fun of the genre she does best, she held up her “Big Book of Really High Belt Songs.”
The problem is, those really high belt songs play better in a big room. On the otherwise moving “My Heart Was Set on You,” Foster’s voice rattled the small space with sharp, metallic tones.
When Megan McGinnis came out mid-set, the "Little Women" costar’s softer, higher voice brought out the warm, low tones from Foster; their duet of “Flight” transported the room.
Accompanied by pianist and musical director Michael Rafter, Foster sang show tunes and pop songs. The difference between a stage star versus a singer-songwriter in concert is not so much that you’re not sure if she’s acting, but that she’s Acting. During “Once Upon a Time,” as Foster gazed longingly into the middle distance, I kept wanting to turn around and see what was climbing up the Samueli’s back wall.
Foster’s debut OCPAC performances had been rescheduled so that she can star in the spring Broadway revival of "Anything Goes." Foster has little to prove to Broadway lovers, yet she’s far from a household name (though she has been a Jeopardy question). If she plays to her Ethel Merman qualities -- her comic timing and brassy verve -- she could not only nail Reno Sweeney but perhaps clinch her signature role, ultimate American sweetheart.
-- Evelyn McDonnell
Sutton Foster, Samueli Theater, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. $74 Contact: 714-556-2787 or OCPAC.org
Photo: Foster at the Samueli theater Thursday night. Credit: Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times