By Emily DeRuy
Broadway star and Tony Award-winning actress Sutton Foster got her big break in 2002 playing the title role in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the La Jolla Playhouse, and on Oct. 1 she will return to San Diego for a one-night engagement, "An Evening With Sutton Foster, Michael Rafter Music Director," at the Balboa Theatre.
Foster is the original creator of a record five Broadway roles, including "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Little Women," "Young Frankenstein," "Shrek the Musical" and "Millie." She was asked to play Millie Dillmount after the actress in the lead role became ill just before tech rehearsals. Reviews of Foster were glowing, and her performance would earn her the 2002 Tony Award, as well as Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Astaire Awards, and jump-start a career that has continued to skyrocket.
Foster grew up in Georgia and Michigan studying dance and performing in community theater and school productions. After attending Carnegie Mellon University for a year, she left to pursue singing and acting, eventually moving to New York.
"When I was 10, I did a production of "Annie" at a small community theater in Georgia," Foster said. "I auditioned because they needed dancers for the orphans and they called my dance studio looking for young girls. I got cast as Annie — and I became obsessed with the theater."
These days, Foster has the ability to be a little more selective when it comes to choosing roles.
"I am very attracted to things that are outside the box, maybe something that I don't even know if I can do," she said.
Foster relishes a challenge, and she is not afraid to push herself mentally or physically.
"I think my favorite role so far is Fiona in 'Shrek the Musical,' " she said. "Playing a bipolar princess who burped and farted on stage was pretty awesome."
The confidence Foster exudes when the lights and cameras are on her belie the insecurities that plague everyone, famous or not, and the Broadway veteran is no exception.
"I always want to be my best, but sometimes I'm sick or I don't sound my best, and I struggle with my own perfectionism," Foster said.
"An Evening With Sutton Foster, Michael Rafter Music Director" will give audience members a chance to get to know the actress in a more intimate setting. The show will feature the Broadway show-stoppers for which she is famous, as well as selections from her critically acclaimed debut solo CD, "Wish," all overseen by Rafter, one of Broadway's most esteemed music directors. He currently serves as music supervisor for "Everyday Rapture" and "Jersey Boys" around the world.
The two began working together a decade ago when Rafter served as music director for "Thoroughly Modern Millie." The pair clicked when they were asked to perform at a mutual friend's wedding, and have collaborated frequently since then.
"It is an absolute joy working with Sutton," Rafter said. "She is an incredibly selfless, hard-working and mega-talented artist. Together, I think we make quite a team."
Audience members will have an opportunity to get to know the actress on Oct. 1 as an artist, but also as a person.
"I love playing characters and telling stories, but it's nice to strip all that away and just stand on a stage and let people see the real me," Foster said. "San Diego is my favorite city in the United States. I just love it there, and I can't wait to come back."
IF YOU GO
- What: 'An Evening With Sutton Foster, Michael Rafter Music Director,' Broadway/San Diego/Nederlander Presentation
- When: 8 p.m. Oct. 1
- Where: Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., downtown San Diego
- Tickets: $20-$71, Civic Theatre Ticket Office, 1100 Third Ave., (619) 570-1100; Ticketmaster, (800) 982-2787