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Interview: Sutton Foster

Lauren LaBorde talks to the star of Broadway, Bunheads and an upcoming concert at NOCCA

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Sutton Foster's cabaret performance features a mix of songs, including tunes from her Broadway shows.
  • Sutton Foster's cabaret performance features a mix of songs, including tunes from her Broadway shows.

Like her character on the ABC Family series Bunheads, Sutton Foster is in a new phase of her life. On the show, she plays a Las Vegas showgirl who, after a whirlwind marriage, is transplanted to a small town where she finds herself working as a ballet teacher at a small dance school. Foster, the two-time Tony Award winner who has been one of the busiest performers on Broadway for more than a decade, is now settling into life as a TV star.

  "It's a totally different pace (working on television)," Foster says. "With Bunheads, I've never experienced such exhaustion and brain melt because it's just learning new material and ... there's no rehearsal time. You'll get pages the night before or the day of and you have to produce a scene that day. But there is something freeing about that because you have to just sort of leap."

  Foster also performs around the country and comes to New Orleans Saturday as part of Seth Rudetsky's Broadway at NOCCA series, which features songs and an interview with performers. The series also features Megan Mullally (April 6), Audra McDonald (May 18) and Betty Buckley (June 1).

  Foster won Tonys for the title role in 2002's Thoroughly Modern Millie and as Reno Sweeney in the 2011 revival of Anything Goes, and she says she's game to talk about her career.

  "I'm curious as to what (Rudetsky's) going to start throwing out," she says. "I'm pretty good about talking about anything careerwise. Once you get into your personal life ... I don't necessarily want to talk about all the loves in my life. I like to try to keep that as private as possible."

  The set list is mostly at the behest of Rudetsky.

  "It's actually kind of fun," she says. "I do a lot of other concerts ... and our song list is pretty much set. ... [O]ne of the things I love so much about him is he's incredibly unpredictable and spontaneous. We basically sort of pow-wowed and picked about 20 songs.

  "I have a feeling it's just going to be a very spontaneous evening. We're doing two shows, and I think both shows might be completely different."

  Foster is also looking forward to revisiting material she sang seven days a week in lead roles in Broadway shows including Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein and Shrek the Musical.

  "Now having a distance from (these songs), it's actually fun to revisit things," she says. "Especially songs you know inside and out, because you did sing them over a thousand times. There's some fun things I'm looking forward to singing that I might not ever sing in any other type of context."

  While in New Orleans, Foster will conduct a master class with NOCCA students. She has taught classes at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and at Ball State University. She says she learns a lot from teaching.

  "I absolutely love it, and I think what draws me to it is the opportunity to work with young performers," she says. "In many ways ... I've changed as a performer from working with young people. I also love being able to support the next generation of performers, especially in musical theater. It's incredibly rewarding."

  Bunheads (slang for ballet dancers), which premiered in June 2012, drew praise from critics from highbrow magazines like The New Yorker and Vanity Fair to pop-culture site The A.V. Club. It marked a return to television for Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, whose new show has some similarities to that series — mainly, a quirky small-town setting and fast-talking characters. A clip of the show's "bunheads" doing a devilish dance to a They Might Be Giants cover of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" encapsulates the show's charm; it's popular on YouTube and appeared on some critics' "top TV moments" lists of 2012.

  Foster says she hasn't had to adjust her instincts as a stage performer too much in her transition to TV, where she's had to get used to not playing to an audience.

  "I think there's the obvious (difference between stage and television), which is that you're playing to a 2,000-seat house (onstage). It's just more intimate (on television). Luckily, though, in the show that I'm doing, Amy Sherman-Palladino creates a very theatrical world," Foster says. "I feel like I don't have to completely pare down to do this incredibly small, intimate performance. The character's a bit theatrical, sort of goofy and out there, and all of that is sort of OK in that world."

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