By Wayman Wong
02 Sep 2003

Hunter Foster.
Hunter Foster.
Photo by Ben Strothmann

Itís September, "when the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame," and while Little Shop of Horrors has just planted itself at the Virginia ó with Hunter Foster ó Big River, starring Michael McElroy, has taken root at the Roundabout.

When Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotisí Off-Broadway hit Urinetown moved to Broadway, some cynics predicted it would tank. Instead, the three-time Tony-winning musical has been flush with success, and one of the No. 1 reasons it was a privilege to see it was Hunter Foster. The 5-foot-10 actor from Lumberton, N.C., played the rabble-rousing rebel Bobby Strong and stopped the show with "Run, Freedom, Run."

Now, Foster is playing Seymour in Howard Ashman and Alan Menkenís Little Shop of Horrors, which just began playing to enthusiastic previews Friday and opens Oct. 2. As a nebbishly nice guy working in a seedy flower shop, he finds his budding affection for Audrey (Kerry Butler) growing almost as rapidly as the monstrous, man-eating plant that heís cultivated and divinely named "Audrey II."

Foster, 34, has been in Footloose, Les Misťrables and Grease! (with his equally gifted sister, Sutton Foster). His Tony-winning sibling and star of Thoroughly Modern Millie recalls seeing him as Linus in Youíre a Good Man, Charlie Brown, in Athens, Ga. He was 13; she was 7. Sutton says, "Hunter inspired me to be a performer. He still does!" Foster is married to Jennifer Cody (Urinetown, Taboo); the cute couple live in Teaneck, N.J., with Zach, their Yorkshire terrier.

Question: Hi, Hunter! So how do you see Seymour? Is he a nerd?
Hunter Foster: Seymourís a good guy who gets caught up in the wrong thing. Itís kind of similar to Bobby Strong in Urinetown because his idealism leads to his downfall. Heís in love with this girl, and heíll do anything to make her happy. My wife says this part is perfect for me because Iím Seymour around the house. I trip over things, screw things up. I donít think heís a nerd. Heís a social misfit.

Q: Whatís it like working with Kerry Butler as Audrey?
Foster: Kerryís great. Sheís a very giving actress. We really connect.

Q: And how is it doing scenes with Audrey II?
Foster: Audrey II and me worked in Florida, so weíve got a lotta history. Whatís great this time is itís taken on a lot more character and personality. Jerry Zaks has worked hard to make Audrey II a real person. Itís fun.

Q: Speaking of Florida, what happened? You opened May 16 in Coral Gables, got good reviews and then on June 2, the producers announced they were canceling the production, which was headed for New York. Now Zaks has taken over the direction, recast the whole show, except for you, and itís on Broadway.
Foster: Alice Ripley was wonderful as Audrey. I loved working with her, so it was a shock when they said we werenít going to Broadway. They [the Routh-Frankel-Viertel-Baruch Group] said they were rethinking everything. I respected them for having the guts to do what they did. We did get good reviews out of town, but they felt it wasnít up to the level of their other shows, Hairspray and The Producers. They said they wanted [Little Shop] to be the best that it could be.

Q: Now, Seymour, of course, has a green thumb. How about you?
Foster: Iím notorious for killing plants. I either water them too much or not enough. I canít keep plants in my house to save my life.

Q: Letís talk about another cult musical: Urinetown. You were fantastic. What did you enjoy most about playing Bobby Strong?
Foster: Just being in that great cast. And that part let me do everything Iíve ever wanted to do in a musical: to be funny, to lead a revolution, to sing a gospel number. It was like The Fantasticks, Les Miz and Dreamgirls all in one show.

Q: You got rave reviews and Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel nominations, but you and Jeff McCarthy, who was brilliant as Officer Lockstock, were robbed of Tony nominations. What was your take on that?
Foster: Urinetown has an incredible cast, and four people got nominated. We were so happy for them. And if we had been a more mainstream show like The Producers, I know Jeff and I would have been nominated, too. But what can you do? Thatís the way it works. There were people who were nominated for Best Actor in small parts. John McMartin was nominated for the Narrator [in Into the Woods], and thatís not even a part. You canít put stock in that. Look, I'm not knocking McMartin, who's a wonderful actor, but the Narrator's role is supporting, not lead. Kerry Butler shouldíve been nominated for a Tony [for Hairspray], too. Politics is part of it. Hopefully, someday the politics will work in my favor. But I was very happy for Sutton. That made it okay.

Q: How did you feel when your show competed with hers?
Foster: Of course, I wanted Sutton to win [for Best Actress], but I thought our show deserved to win Best Musical. Not that Millieís not a great show. It is. But itís a standard, old-type Broadway musical. Shows like Urinetown are changing the face of theatre. Without Urinetown, thereíd be no Avenue Q.

Q: Youíre doing your own bit in developing new musicals. You and David Kirshenbaum wrote a sweet show called Summer of í42. What can you tell us about your next project, Bonnie and Clyde?
Foster: Thereís something romantic about the notion of these two people on the run that fall in love, even though theyíre cold-blooded killers. Itís gonna be a black comedy. It wonít have anything to do with the movie. Weíll be doing a number from the show at a forum on Sept. 22 for the National Alliance of Musical Theatre.

Q: Talk about falling in love: Howíd you meet your wife?
Foster: We met ten years ago on a tour of Cats. I proposed to her six years ago in Paris, and we just celebrated our anniversary. Jennifer has a really good heart and soul. Until I met her, I didnít have any focus in my life, and sheís very organized. I donít think Iíd be here [in showbiz] if it werenít for her.

Q: Your wife and Sutton will be on the Learning Channelís "A Makeover Story" on Oct. 7. Sutton jokes, "Weíre gonna look like dorks." Is she right?
Foster: Neither of them needed a makeover, but it was great.

Q: Maybe you shouldíve done "Trading Dressing Rooms" instead.
Foster: Now thatís an idea. Weíre working on it!

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