Boston Pops: Thoroughly Modern Foster

Sutton Foster at Boston Pops
(photo: Boston Pops)

A Broadway Celebration with Sutton Foster with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall last night was proof that Foster has had a remarkable career over the past couple of decades or so. Here, in more or less chronological order, is an amazing list: Les Miserables, Grease, Annie, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, Shrek the Musical, Anything Goes and Violet. Along the way she has received countless nominations and awards including winning Tony Awards for Thoroughly Modern Millie (her “overnight” starring breakthrough role in 2002) as well as Anything Goes. She's also performed in concert versions of Chess and Funny Girl and is currently in the cast of television's hit show Younger, in which she plays a forty-year-old woman who passes as twenty-six to win a job. It could serve as a metaphor for Foster herself, in that she looks (and much more importantly, sings) younger than ever.

Her choices for songs to share with a very simpatico audience of fans fell into categories such as numbers she herself has made popular, others from lesser known composers whom she has championed, and even those that evoke memories of her own family. Beginning with a nod to Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific (“Cockeyed Optimist”) mixed with lesser known Sondheim in his famous flop Anyone Can Whistle (“Everybody Says Don't”), she went on to Cole Porter's somewhat obscure Paris (“Don't Look at Me That Way”) and his more familiar Can-Can (“C'est Magnifique”), to his even less known DuBarry Was a Lady (“Give Him the Ooh-la-la”). Then she alluded to a show her brother Hunter Foster had been in, the recent Bridges of Madison County (“It All Fades Away”) by composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown. Then it was back to Cole Porter territory with Anything Goes (the title song, in the show for which she earned one of her two Tony Awards), followed by a nod to her late mother and one of her favorites, John Denver's “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, a folk song that turned out to be her only regrettable choice, at least as over-orchestrated in this performance. After a second brief nod to “Cockeyed Optimist”, she segued to a really unknown (except to avid fans of Sondheim) “Take Me to the World” (from the televised Evening Primrose musical). She ended with the title song from the Maltby/Shire review, Starting Here, Starting Now, with an encore from her first big break, Thoroughly Modern Millie, “Gimme Gimme”.

And give she did. Interspersed with personal reflections (such as being a new mom and having a starring role in a television series in its fifth season), she demonstrated just how deeply she continues to invest herself in live performing. She acknowledged that Broadway is her first love, and went on to prove it. The Pops gave her great support in most of her chosen repertoire (a good deal of it from her brand new album, Take Me to the World). As always, they performed superbly under the baton of Conductor Keith Lockhart, with pianist Michael Rafter as Foster's accompanist.
An added bonus at this concert were the five winners of the 2018 Fidelity Young Artists Competition awards, starting with the amazingly controlled countertenor Sam Higgins, a fifteen-year-old freshman from Milton High School who sang Bereite dich, Zion from Bach's Christmas Oratorio. This was followed by Arlington High School's Giulia Haible on cello and Caroline Dressler on violin performing Cassel's The Glass Case of Emotion and Kohler's Hornpipe, in near perfect synch. Then soprano Sydney Penny from Needham High School delivered a smashing coloratura rendition of Dell'Acqua and van der Elst's Villanelle, truly reminiscent of the young Barbara Cook (making one wish to hear Penny deliver “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide, especially in this year of Bernstein). The final performer in the group, Wellesley High School cellist Michael Arumainayagam, beautifully played Dvorak's finale from his Cello Concerto in B Minor, acknowledging his teacher Eugene Kim, Boston Pops cellist.

Much of this program continued the series of performances centering around Broadway hits, from the previous offerings this season of Disney's Broadway Hits and On the Town, with upcoming concerts by two stars of Broadway's hit musical Hamilton: An American Musical , Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler) and Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton) substituting for the originally programmed An Evening with Leslie Odom, Jr., due to a scheduling conflict for Odom), and the highly awaited concert version of West Side Story. It's a season of Broadway and Bernstein, and who could ask for anything more?

The program was given an encore performance at Symphony Hall on Thursday June 7th.

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