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

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07 Jul 2013

Sutton Foster
Sutton Foster
Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

Two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster returns to the New York stage for a one-night-only concert of Jeanine Tesori's Violet. The Encores! Off-Center production will be presented July 17.

Composer Tesori should consider herself forewarned (and very fortunate): Whatever she wants, Foster will do.

The composer and musical arranger, whose credits include Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline, or Change and Shrek, is currently serving as artistic director of Encores! Off-Center, which presents Off-Broadway musicals in concert. The aforementioned Violet features music by Tesori and libretto by Brian Crawley. The show played Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1997, winning the Drama Critics' Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical.

The City Center production will star two-time Tony Award winner and TV star Foster, whose collaboration with Tesori began in 2002 when Tesori adapted the movie "Thoroughly Modern Millie" for the stage. Foster was cast in the title role and won her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

"My career changed when I began working with her on Millie," Foster said of Tesori. "I think she's a genius; I will follow her everywhere. I think she's extraordinary. As a composer, as a musician, and as a person — I just admire her so much. Whenever she calls and says anything, I say yes. I will put down anything I'm doing to follow her wherever she goes."

Foster will play the title role in Violet, Tesori's first musical, which tells the story of a young woman who, disfigured as a child, travels from North Carolina to Oklahoma to seek the help of a televangelist. Based on Doris Betts' short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim," the musical follows Violet's physical and emotional journey.

The concert will also feature Tony Award nominee Joshua Henry, Van Hughes, Austin Lesch, Anastacia McCleskey, Tony Award nominee Keala Settle, Tony Award nominee Christopher Sieber, Emerson Steele, Chris Sullivan, Rema Webb and Paul Whitty, as well as the Songs of Solomon gospel choir.

Foster cites the cast recording of Violet as one of her favorite albums, but she has never seen the musical performed, despite having recorded one of the songs, "On My Way," on her solo album "Wish."

"It became that show that was so beloved," she said. "I'm obsessed with the music. I never in a million years thought I would be able to play her [Violet]. I'm thrilled."

One aspect of Violet's story that spoke to Foster was the theme of physical beauty and the struggles Violet faced due to her disfigurement.

"She stayed at home, she's never ventured out, she's never had love, and she thinks she can't have any of these things until she's 'healed,'" Foster said of her character. "She begins a journey to be healed and thinks once she looks like a movie star, then happiness will come. Unfortunately, that's what I think a lot of our society goes through."


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