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Review: Foster hits all the right notes
REVIEW BY STEVEN MARK / email@example.com
My first thought when looking at the stage setup for Broadway superstar-turned-television actress Sutton Foster was: There won’t be much dancing tonight. With the piano and mike at center stage, there wouldn’t be enough room for hoofing off.
No matter. Foster’s wondrous voice did all the dancing necessary to please the socks off the near sell-out crowd at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Orvis Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 2. Coy to impudent, sweet to sarcastic, powerful to powerless, the two-time Tony Award winner embodied it all in songs from Broadway to pop, every one done with effortless perfection.
Perfection? Now, that’s a dangerous thing to say. But how else to describe phrasing that put every line of every song clearly in context, inflection and breathing that were flawlessly natural, and tone that was rich and colorful throughout the broad range of her voice?
It was so easy to enjoy what Foster was doing up there. She came off as so wholesome, so genuine, so true to what she was doing that she had the audience hanging on virtually every word she sang.
Her song selection dealt mostly with romance, including a sweetly heart-wrenching rendition of the standard “The Nearness of You,” to “Warm All Over,” which indeed felt like the first rays of the sun hitting you in the morning.
As much as those songs capture the rapture of romance, she sang others that dealt with its disappointments, such as “The Lies of Handsome Men.” Foster was especially effective in transitioning this tune from a funny, self-effacing lament into a whistful, melancholy expression of loneliness.
Another winner was “Air Conditioner,” a hilarious commentary on weather that’s so hot it makes any man with good air conditioning a good catch. Foster’s biting delivery had the sarcasm dripping like sweat on a kona wind day. Similarly, she was bright and brassy in “Down With Love,” and sensitive and reflective in “People that You Never Got to Love.”
She handled pop tunes just as easily. John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes,” came off beautifully, with the later, performed without the mike as her first encore, a quietly sentimental way of sending us off.
(We wouldn’t have any of it, with our extended applause forcing another encore of a rousing “Anything Goes.”)
Foster has said her “instrument” was a blessing that came naturally, and fortunately she is smart enough to let it behave that way. She doesn’t add stress when necessary, holding off on vibrato except for the longest notes, and even then not until the tail end. There’s no artificial catching of the breath or added strain from the throat, which seems all too common among pop singing these days. She simply tells good stories through great songs.
At the same time, she’s a wonderfully subtle actress. The bright smile is one thing, but the little wink she added in “I Get a Kick Out of You,” as well as other facial expressions added a lot to her delivery. Sadly, she did not dance, save for a bit of horsing around on stage, but that’s understandable. Foster is a television actress now, on ABC Family’s “Bunheads,” so dancing might be too much to expect.
She was accompanied by pianist and producer Michael Rafter, with whom she has worked since getting her first starring role on Broadway, as “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” for which she won a Tony. (She also got a Tony for “Anything Goes.”) Rafter deserved the praise. His arrangements of the pieces were minor masterpieces, complementing Foster perfectly, and his piano playing was superb.