Why Sweet Charity Is the “Hardest Thing” Sutton Foster Has Ever Done

Why Sweet Charity Is the “Hardest Thing” Sutton Foster Has Ever Done The Tony Award-winning star of the Off-Broadway revival says she’s been spending extra time in dance rehearsal to become Charity Hope Valentine.
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Emily Padgett, Sutton Foster, and Asmeret Ghebremichael Monique Carboni

Before The New Group’s Sweet Charity began performances November 2 at The Pershing Square Signature Center, Sutton Foster said she was excited. Excited and scared.

“Equal parts terror; equal parts excitement,” she admitted. “This is probably going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, [and] ever tackled.”

Those words seem hard to imagine coming from the two-time Tony Award-winning star of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes, two of Broadway’s most tap-driven musicals, and a Tony nominee for her performances in Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Shrek the Musical, and Violet. With such a varied resume and years of acclaim, how could an Off-Broadway revival of a tried-and-true Fosse classic be the most difficult thing Foster has done?

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Emily Padgett, Donald Jones, Jr., Sutton Foster, Joel Perez, and Cody Williams Monique Carboni

But she was serious. “Every day, I have Remedial 101, my dance hour, where they bring me in just by myself, so I could learn all the steps before everybody else because I need extra time,” she laughed. “But it’s great. Thank God they allow me to do that.”

Foster plays Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer at New York City’s Fandango Ballroom who’s looking for love, in the three-time extended production through January 8, 2017. It’s a part she’s always wanted to play, even if she’s not quite sure why.

“It was always a role that was on my radar, and maybe because I’ve always wanted to be Shirley MacLaine,” she says. “But I really didn’t dive into the show until we started working on it here. It just felt like a role that was out in the world, that I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do that!’ I felt the same way with Reno Sweeney [in Anything Goes]. Basically, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Patti LuPone, so I was like, ‘If Patti does it, I want to do it.’ And I guess I felt the same way about Charity. But, what’s been more revealing to me about Charity than Reno is that… I’m much more of the world of Charity than I was of Reno. Reno was such a stretch for me. This feels much more like, ‘I know who this person is,’ so it’s been really fun to dive in. Especially, where I am in my life. I’m getting older.”

Foster called up director Leigh Silverman, with whom she worked with on Broadway’s Violet, and said she needed her to stage it.

“I actually didn’t know the show that well at all,” Silverman said, “so I was really excited to just be able to wrap my brain around it. She called me and said it was a part she always wanted to play, and I was like, ‘That’s amazing, you’d be incredible.’ And then I was like, ‘I better get a good idea.’ So I went away and tried to get a good idea!”

The idea was to strip it down to its core. What’s normally a splashy musical with a large cast has been pared down to a 12-member ensemble with a six-piece band in an intimate house and a thrusted stage. She enlisted Joshua Bergasse, the Emmy-winning choreographer of Smash and the Tony-nominated choreographer of On the Town, to bring a new flair to the classic Fosse.

Though Sweet Charity is known for the iconic Bob Fosse treatment, Foster said, “he’s able to breathe new life into it for 2016, and, working with Leigh, it’s all about the story, so it’s infusing the dance with even more storytelling. He’s pushing me.”

She added, “We could have done a big commercial production, but I like doing it like this. It feels like a brand-new production. That’s how I’m treating it.”

As for the fear, “I think that’s one of the reasons I choose what I do,” Foster said. “If I want to run away from it, then it usually means it’s the thing I should be doing.”

Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.

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Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley, and cast Monique Carboni