I've never seen Sutton Foster perform live. But whenever I see videos of her, I always tend to have two reactions. One is that I could see why she has won two Tony Awards, and the other that I can only imagine how much even better she must be live on stage.
(I also admit to having a personal bias for her the first time I saw her, for reasons most no one else in the world would figure. In her acceptance speech for her first Tony for Thoroughly Modern Millie -- a show for which he was a totally unknown understudy during the San Diego tryout premiere, during which she was hired to replace the star -- she thanked her list of people, and it included her acting teacher, Joan Rosenfeld. I thought it was quite refreshing and nice for someone to thank their acting teacher. But more than that, I was in kindergarten and grade school with Joan Rosenfeld. I haven't seen her in many, maaany years, but she was very nice, so I was quite happy for her.)
Her second Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical was in 20111 for Anything Goes by Cole Porter. On my normal browsing the other week, I came across some footage from it, but one clip leaped out, a performance of the classic title song. It's not polished -- no costumes or sets -- so I continued looking for other footage of the same scene. And I did find better footage of the same song. The problem is that those were all performed on TV shows, so the very long number (very long...) was drastically cut down. And it's the length of the number, and what goes on, that's so remarkable. And so, it's this un-polished -- and breathtaking -- video that I've chosen to show.
What I assume this comes from is the Press Day, when journalists are invited to see some scenes from the musical in rehearsal in order to take pictures, do interviews and write promotional stories. So, this is the entire "Anything Goes" number -- an exhausting 8 minutes and 45 seconds. (You'll notice, too, the show's co-star Joel Grey performing a bit, as well. He's hidden by the company, but comes in around the 1:35 mark.)
Normally I don't care much for big dance production numbers on TV or video. In part it's because I'm not a huge fan of dance, though I do enjoy it here and there. But mainly I don't think a small screen is the best venue to see it. This number, though, is wonderfully choreographed and comes across so well -- but mainly, more than just a big production number, the show's star Sutton Foster is front and center.
I suspect that having a star in a show who is actually an accomplished dancer is a joy untold for a choreographer. It's not usually the case. Usually you have to give the star a couple of steps, they go off-stage, and then you just have to do something amorphous with the rest of the company rambling around. But with the star involved -- actually dancing amid everyone -- you have a character and personality for the audience to focus on. And appreciate. (I suspect, too, that the audience understands inherently how special it is when the star is dancing with everyone.)
And from this video, it's crystal clear too at the end that her fellow dancers in the company appreciate her, as well. A star who not only works as hard as they do, but pours herself into it even more.
And so Sutton Foster must be a choreographer's dream. She not only can dance, she's a wonderful dancer -- and does it with an utterly bizarre ease that makes it look effortless.
And boy howdy, does she dance up an "effortless" storm here. And sing. How she has the breath to do it all, I have absolutely no idea. At one point, she gets a slight pause while the chorus sings en masse, but it's only for a few seconds. Another time, you see see her turn her back to the audience as the others take center stage, so I'm sure she's catching her breath. But it's brief, too, and then she's right back into it. And you know it's exhausting because when it's all over, you can see her gasping for breath. Yet she sings and dances through it all without any seeming effort. But then that's part of why she's won two Tony Awards. It helps when you can sing, act, and dance. Without looking like you're trying.
And so this Press Day performance without costume or sets wins out over the more polished ones.
I'll have a few more videos of Sutton Foster and Joel Grey and company coming up. But this is the best way to start. Buckle your seat belts.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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