DIVA TALK: Chats with 2011 Anything Goes Tony Nominees Sutton Foster and Kathleen Marshall

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chats with 2011 Anything Goes Tony Nominees Sutton Foster and Kathleen Marshall
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Sutton Foster
Sutton Foster Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"You know," the gloriously talented Sutton Foster told me the morning the 2011 Tony nominations were announced, "I thought for some reason that [the nominations] were going to be announced at nine, and so I had set my alarm for nine. I rolled over and looked at my phone, and there was a text from my brother, and then my mom had e-mailed me, so I knew from the e-mail."

Foster, nominated in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her turn as nightclub singer/evangelist Reno Sweeney in the Roundabout Theatre Company's acclaimed revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, said her initial reaction to the news was "relief and excitement, and I immediately wanted to see what else the show was nominated for, and it's just a thrill. This whole experience has been a whirlwind and very overwhelming, and I can't even [put it into words]... It's just all icing. My mom wrote, 'Congratulations on your nomination. Now, go find a pretty dress and get your hair cut,"  the good-natured Foster said with a laugh. "So I think that's what I'm going to try and do. I'm going to get my haircut and find something really pretty to wear!"

The singing actress, a Tony Award winner for her breakthrough performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie, said when she was initially approached to play the role of Reno — the part created on Broadway by Ethel Merman and later played, also to rave reviews, by Tony winner Patti LuPone — she "had to think about it. At first, I was like, 'Yes! Definitely!' And then I began to panic. I was like, 'I can't do this. I can't do this.' And, I was pretty convinced that I wasn't going to be able to do it, only because of the people that have played it before. It was such a departure from anything I've ever done, and I hemmed and hawed over actually accepting the role for a couple months, and there was a really strong part of me that was really afraid to do it, and then I decided to do it because of that, because of how scared I was. I thought, 'Well that's reason enough to do anything.' So, it was definitely the biggest challenge I've ever undertaken."

Joel Grey and Sutton Foster
photo by Joan Marcus

Foster, who has often discussed her admiration for fellow actress LuPone, admitted that the women who had previously played Reno on Broadway were "the biggest intimidation factor. I didn't know Ethel Merman personally, but obviously, there's Ethel Merman, and then there was Patti LuPone, and to be even in the same breath as those two women, to be like, 'Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster…' I was like, 'What?!' Like my brain was like, 'Ehhh!' I don't even know how to put that in there. But, Patti, how can I even attempt to be her or do what she does, and [director-choreographer] Kathleen [Marshall] was so wonderful because we cracked open Reno in a new way, so I could find my own way into her as opposed to daring to try and do what Patti did."

Foster, who may be giving the musical theatre performance of the year, said she didn't feel the role was totally in her grasp until "about a week before we opened. It was just a very slow process for me. A lot of it was just my own confidence. It was fascinating — it was like a therapy session in my head. I had to convince myself that I could do it, and that I deserved to do it. It just took me a long time to really realize, 'Okay, this is happening. You have to own this moment and have to own this part,' and I just fought it for some reason. Then, finally, about a week before we opened, something just shifted, and I felt like everything, all the little pieces, fell into place. And, thank God!," she laughed. "I kept waiting for it. I was like, 'Oh, please. Oh, please. Oh, please.' And then all the little pieces fell into place, and it's just been an awesome ride. It's an incredible place to work and an amazing company. It's been really, really cool."

Sutton Foster
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

One of the many highlights of the evening is Foster and company's performance of the title tune, which ends the first act and boasts a dynamic, lengthy tap routine that receives an enormous ovation from the audience. Foster said the audience reaction to the show has been "beyond. It's just beyond. I've never experienced anything like this before. I think that's the big difference, too. I've been in shows in New York, but I've never been in one that's been so received this way — not only critically, but by the audience as well—and it's like I don't even know how to [respond]. It's really incredible. We just feel really lucky, and it's all Kathleen Marshall. She did everything. She created these moments, and we have to deliver them. It's so cool. I just feel like we're in great hands because she did all this unbelievable work, and we're just up there living in the moment. It's just amazing."

Another amazing experience, Foster said, was having LuPone recently in the audience at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. "Patti came and saw the show and was so gracious and amazing afterwards. We took pictures—I was like, 'I have to take a picture on my cell phone,'" Foster laughed. "I have this picture of Patti LuPone and me. But I am still the 15-year-old kid watching her on television and listening to her repeatedly on my tape player trying to be her... To have her come watch me perform, the brain doesn't—I didn't even know what to do, I didn't even know how to react to it. It's like your wildest dreams coming true, and it's like everything is going to explode. I feel like I've robbed nine banks and haven't got caught. It's amazing."

Kathleen Marshall
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Kathleen Marshall and her husband were feeding breakfast to their 11-month-old twins when she received the news that she had been nominated for both Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography for the aforementioned revival of Anything Goes.

"We had them in their high-chairs, and between bites of peach squash yogurt we were watching [the nominations], so it was kind of fun," Marshall said with a laugh the morning of May 3.

"It's just wonderful. It's always just a gift," she added. "I say we have no control over these kinds of things—reviews and nominations and awards, and so all we have control over is what we present to an audience, and it's just lovely when it's recognized. Especially for a classic show like this to be recognized in a season with all of these wonderful new and daring musicals is just really lovely."

Although Anything Goes received a whopping nine Tony nominations, Marshall explained that "it's always a little heartbreaking when… somebody is overlooked. In this case, Joel Grey — although he got a nomination for directing Normal Heart with George Wolfe, so that's wonderful — and Colin Donnell, our wonderful Billy…  But [the nine nominations are] so thrilling. Of course, the best thing is to get a nomination for Best Revival because it means everybody in the show, everybody in billing is nominated."

Marshall, who is a two-time Tony winner for her choreography for the revivals of Wonderful Town and The Pajama Game, said that "the challenge always with doing a show that you know is strong and has worked in the past is to sort of deliver the show that people already know and love, but try to give them something new and unexpected at the same time, but still be respectful to the material."

Sutton Foster and Kathleen Marshall
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

When asked about the brilliant casting of Sutton Foster as Reno, Marshall said, "It's funny because Reno is an evangelist turned nightclub singer, and really Reno is whoever plays her—whatever qualities whoever plays her brings to it. There's no description anywhere in any of the scripts about what Reno looks like, about her age, anything about her characteristics, so I think Sutton just has such star-quality, and also Reno is everybody's pal in the play—she sort of relates to everybody—and I think Sutton has that. She has that sort of warmth and that sense of fun, and who wouldn't want to be her best friend?"

And, what's next for the director-choreographer?

"We're hoping to get this Gershwin musical that we've been working on. It's a new musical with Gershwin music, with a book by Joe DiPietro, called Nice Work If You Can Get It, and hopefully we are going to be doing it in the next year."

[Tickets for Roundabout's Anything Goes are available by visiting Telecharge.com or calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250. Visit roundabouttheatre.org.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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