Violet Star and Tony Award Winner Sutton Foster on "Bunheads," Body Image and Working With Jeanine Tesori

By Carey Purcell
07 Jul 2013

Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Foster, who described herself as having been a "lanky, geeky teenager," joined the touring cast of The Will Rogers Follies when she was 17 and experienced a culture shock when playing the role of a showgirl onstage.

"I was 17 years old in these scantily clad clothes, parading around onstage, and whenever we went anywhere, we were ogled and looked at," Foster said. "It was the first time that had ever happened in my life. I wasn't used to it."

Following the tour, Foster rebelled against the cultural standards of beauty by cutting off all of her hair, saying she was tired of being looked at.

"I wanted people to like me for who I was on the inside, as opposed to what I looked like," she said. "It was sort of an interesting journey that I went through personally, and it's interesting the journey that Violet goes through because she really does believe that matters. Of course, in the context of the show that changes. It's an interesting battle and balance that we all sort of struggle with, inner beauty and inner confidence and inner self-esteem, because unfortunately we live in a cruel world."

Along with beauty, and societal standards of beauty, some of the other themes Violet addresses are religion and faith, family, and letting go of traumas. "There are a lot of things to get you thinking," Foster said of the show.

One aspect of Violet that got Foster thinking was the show's setting, which is in the South. Foster, who is from North Carolina, said the idea of Southern morality is a new aspect for her to face in a role. 

"There's a whole other layer of that!" she said. "This will be fun to delve into as well."

It also gives Foster an excuse to call her relatives who live down South to brush up on her Southern drawl.

Along with her collaborations with Tesori in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek, Foster's stage credits include a Tony Award-winning turn as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Inga in Young Frankenstein, Janet Van De Graaff in The Drowsy Chaperone and Jo March in Little Women. Foster said she has enjoyed playing such a wide range of female characters.

"One of the things I love about musical theatre is it does seem to give an outlet for strong women," she said. "It does seem to lend a hand to the strong woman who goes onstage and goes after what she wants. Millie, Jo, even Reno — such a strong character."

Foster most recently played the character of Michelle Simms on the TV show "Bunheads," and she is currently waiting on confirmation if the show has been renewed by ABC Family. In the meantime, she is touring the country, performing concerts throughout the fall. Her schedule includes a return visit to the Cafe Carlyle in New York for three weeks of concerts.

She said she hopes to return to Broadway in the near future and lists Charity, The Baker's Wife and Mama Rose as roles she would like to play one day.

"I have no idea what will be in store, what the next chapter will be," she said. "It's been fun to be out in California for a change of pace, and working on something so different, but I have no idea. We'll see."

PHOTO ARCHIVE: Two-Time Tony Award Winner Sutton Foster on the Musical Stage

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Sutton Foster and cast in Violet
Photo by Joan Marcus