Earlier today I had the extreme privilege of speaking to one of the biggest Broadway stars of the new millennium all about her new ABC Family original series BUNHEADS - two-time Tony Award-winning triple-threat dynamo Sutton Foster. Candidly recalling her professional beginnings, auditioning for the national tour of THE Will Rogers FOLLIES at only 17 for director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun - our recent 2012 Tony Awards special chat available here - and starring in GREASE on Broadway under his direction shortly thereafter, Foster also shares her post-Tony Awards night memories from ten years ago today, when she first won a trophy for her star-making turn in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. Clearly, Foster has remained busy since her Tony-winning Reno Sweeney in the hit revival of ANYTHING GOES last season, as well, with the fantastic new Amy Sherman-Palladino-penned BUNHEADS proving to be the ideal opportunity for her to bring her considerable stage chops to the small screen and show off her serious skills as a comedienne, dancer, singer and actress to a whole new audience in a major way. Of course, Broadway babies have known for over a decade that Sutton Foster is the rare star that comes along once a generation and BUNHEADS now gives her the national stage so that she may give the world everything she's got to give - and that's a whole lot. In addition to an analysis of the central character on BUNHEADS, Michelle, and a look ahead to what we can expect in the ensuing season that kicks off tonight at 9 PM on ABC Family with the enchanting and hilarious pilot episode, Sutton and I also shine a light on the many musical theatre associations in the BUNHEADS universe, current and future - such as the razzle dazzle Las Vegas opening number of the pilot, penned by songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, which was originally performed on Broadway in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN; BUNHEADS series regular and A CHORUS LINE original cast standout Kelly Bishop as Michelle's domineering ballet instructor mother-in-law; Michelle's determination to land a lead role in CHICAGO someday; and, we even discuss some possibilities for musical numbers and song sequences on BUNHEADS in the future ("At The Ballet", perhaps?). Plus, Sutton shares her thoughts on SMASH, expresses her interest in exploring a revival of THE UNSINKABLE Molly Brown onstage soon and much, much more!
BUNHEADS airs Monday nights at 9 PM on ABC Family.
At The Ballet
PC: What do you remember about the morning after the Tony Awards back in 2002, when you won your first Best Actress for THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE - ten years ago today?
SF: Oh, my goodness - it is. Friday will be ten years! Oh, my goodness. [Pause.] You know what I did? I bought a couch.
PC: No way!
SF: I did - I bought a couch, which sounds so strange. What I said was that, if I won a Tony, I would buy a couch - because I needed a couch for my apartment. So, I went to Jennifer Convertibles and bought a couch.
PC: Were you at any Tony events last night or did you have BUNHEADS commitments?
SF: No, I wasn't - I was in Los Angeles. And, actually, I taped it, but I haven't even been able to watch it yet! But, I was keeping up-to-date last night - I kept refreshing on my phone to see who won and what was going on.
PC: I have to say, you and Neil Patrick Harris would make a terrific twosome in a show together someday.
SF: Aww, that would be awesome!
PC: BUNHEADS is such a fantastic new entry in the performance-centric series genre that has become popular with GLEE and SMASH and so on, and, incidentally, the first scene on the show is you doing a CATCH ME IF YOU CAN song, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who write for SMASH.
SF: Oh, I know! I know.
PC: Have you worked with them before or was that the first time you have done one of their songs?
SF: No, I haven't worked with them yet, but I was on a plane with Marc Shaiman once, cross-country - we are friendly; you know, we know each other through the business. So, Marc Shaiman and I were on a plane going from New York to LA and we were sitting behind each other, and, I guess the closest I have come to performing with them is we were having a very long Facebook rant back and forth to each other on the plane the entire ride out to Los Angeles. [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious.
SF: But, I think they are pretty special - I would love to work with them someday.
PC: A SMASH/BUNHEADS crossover, perhaps?
SF: Oh, maybe! Who knows?! I mean, I might be all totally busy with BUNHEADS, but I'm open for anything.
PC: If anybody could bridge two huge networks like NBC and Disney, it would be you, Sutton.
SF: [Big Laugh.]
PC: Had you been a fan of Kelly Bishop's prior to her being cast on BUNHEADS? Is it a sheer coincidence two iconic Broadway stars are both on the show or is there another connection - you had worked together onstage, correct?
SF: Well, I was a huge, huge fan of hers from, you know, Sheila in A CHORUS LINE and just her as a human being, and, then, I was a huge fan of GILMORE GIRLS. And, when she came in to ANYTHING GOES - she came in to replace Jessica Walter - I was like, [Breathless.] "Hi! Hi!", you know, I was like super-fan-ning out on her. And, now that I get to, you know, work with her in this way? It's like a "Pinch me" moment - it's really just incredible. She's amazing. I worship her. I think she's awesome.
PC: It seems almost destined that you two will do "At The Ballet" from A CHORUS LINE at some point. Is that something we can look forward to?
SF: Oh, that's a good guess! Who knows?! I know that I think that's a good idea - I wouldn't say no! I don't know what's coming up, but that definitely could be down the pike.
PC: Will there be more musical numbers coming up soon in the next few episodes?
SF: Definitely. The cool thing about the show is that the main Bunheads - the four leads - they are the real-deal; they are trained ballerinas and they are exceptional.
PC: They really are.
SF: Almost once in every show - at least in every episode thus far - there has been a number. And, I do a little dancing, too. So, it's fun. It's been a really, really sort of cool to focus on the ballet world and to be able to sort of highlight what life is like in a dance studio. You know, I grew up in a dance studio - that was where I felt like I really fit in and belonged; it was like my family - and, so, it's nice to have everything on this show sort of revolving around this little studio.
PC: It's such a great ballet metaphor in the pilot - the ugly duckling revealing herself as the beautiful swan when you appear in the black dress at the party.
SF: Aww. Yeah - yeah!
PC: You've certainly come full-circle playing a Vegas showgirl on BUNHEADS since you got your Equity card for THE Will Rogers FOLLIES, did you not?
SF: Yes! Yes.
PC: Jeff Calhoun just did the Tony Awards column and he told me a fabulous story about your audition. Do you remember what happened?
SF: Well, he discovered me.
PC: That's what he said.
SF: I was 17-years-old and I was living in Detroit, Michigan and I auditioned for the national tour of THE Will Rogers FOLLIES - to play a showgirl. So, that was my very first audition - at 17, which, you know, is crazy!
PC: You can say that again.
SF: He discovered me. He was there in Detroit, looking for girls for the national tour. So, they flew me to Detroit for a callback and I think that he remembers me as being in like sandals and short-shorts - I was not very showgirl-y!
SF: I probably didn't even have any make-up on!
PC: That's what he said.
SF: Who knows? I remember I had to learn how to walk, and, you know, be like a sexual figure! I was reading TEEN Magazine and SWEET VALLEY HIGH! I didn't know how to be a showgirl - but, I grew up very fast. [Sarcastic Laugh.]
PC: I bet - in a Tommy Tune show.
SF: I remember there 18 showgirls in that show and I got to be one of them. So, yeah, I owe a lot to Jeff Calhoun - I mean, I wouldn't be talking to you if not for him.
PC: How wonderful. You did GREASE for him right after that, as well, yes?
SF: I did. I did - when I was 19.
PC: Your Broadway debut, no less. GREASE is still so popular - they just did GREASE material on GLEE this year, actually.
SF: Yeah. Yeah - it is. I did GREASE when I was in high school, and, even, in community theatre - my brother and I were in GREASE together like way back when we were in Georgia. So, yeah - I have done it several, several times.
PC: Michelle's dream on BUNHEADS is to star in CHICAGO. So, is that the arc the series will build to over the next, hopefully, several seasons?
SF: Yeah, right?! Maybe! We definitely will see some tips to CHICAGO coming up - there definitely is some CHICAGO stuff to be seen. But, right now, I don't know - Michelle is definitely transitioning in life right now, so I don't know where she is going to end up; if she will be more in Paradise, California, or if she will go back to dancing full-time. We'll see.
PC: What is next for you once you finish filming BUNHEADS Season One? Is THE UNSINKABLE Molly Brown the next stage role you would like to pursue?
SF: That's definitely in the works. I've done several workshops of that, but I have absolutely no idea what will be next for me - right now, my focus is on BUNHEADS and really trying to do my best out here. So, I am just keeping all my options open and I can't wait to see what my next creative challenge will be. We'll see. But, when I know, you guys will be the first to know!
PC: We all can't wait to see what you do next! You are true Broadway royalty and this was an absolute thrill. All my best luck on BUNHEADS and everything else!
SF: Thank you! Thank you! You, too. Bye bye.
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|