In 2002, Sutton Foster exploded onto Broadway in the title role in the hit show Thoroughly Modern Millie. The beloved jazzy musical gave Foster her first big break, solidified her as a triple-threat star and earned Foster a Tony award. The production also offered the unforgettable opportunity to work with Millie’s brilliantly eclectic composer Jeanine Tesori.
So when Tesori asked Foster to play Violet in the upcoming revival of Violet on July 17, 2013, which Tesori also composed, Foster jumped at the chance. “Jeanine is genius and amazing. I would basically follow her wherever she goes,” explains Foster who most recently starred in the ABC Family series Bunheads. “If she told me to set myself on fire, I’d say, ‘Okay.’”
Violet, which had an Off-Broadway run in 1997, centers around a young woman whose face is scarred from a childhood axe accident and follows her journey to healing. While Foster didn’t see the original version, she remains captivated by the show which offers a variety of music genres from blues to gospel. “My brother [actor Hunter Foster] still says it’s one of his favorite productions he’s ever seen in New York. And I know so many people who feel that way,” says Foster. “The recording has become a favorite of mine after I listened to it a ton growing up and then of course working with Jeanine.”
Last week, Foster began rehearsals for Violet which will be performed as part of Encores! Off-Center, a new concert-production series celebrating Off-Broadway musicals. This past Friday, Foster let us into her world to show us what a day in her life is really like.
I don’t have a place in New York anymore. I’m primarily living in Los Angeles so I’m staying at a hotel near City Center. I actually love staying in hotels and enjoy a good hotel room. So this experience has been very fun. It’s nice to have someone make your bed every day and I like room service. I lived on tour for a long time – for almost four or five years of my life. So I got used to moving around a lot. I’m here with my boyfriend who is also working here.
After I woke up, I got coffee and breakfast at Starbucks. I don’t order anything fancy. I just get a regular Blonde coffee with half-and-half, an egg white sandwich and green juice. I have my little power start.
I came back to the hotel and did a little bit of work on the script. Then I warmed up. I always cringe when I’m staying in a hotel because when I’m warming up by singing, I’m always afraid someone’s going to get mad. I try to stuff my face in a towel or something. When I warm up, I do the same exact vocal exercises. It’s the exact same thing I do before every show or before anytime I sing. I’m religious about it. Then I put on a song like “Useless Desires” by Patty Griffin and I sing to it. She’s my favorite singer. Then I’m done and have little Slippery Elm by Thayers lozenges that I use for my voice. I’m addicted. Singers can be a little neurotic because it’s our livelihood. We have all of our tricks of the trade.
We started rehearsals at 10am. City Center is about two blocks away from the hotel, so I just walked over. It was a full company today so we rehearse from ten to six. The biggest difference with this production is that we’re presenting it with script in hands, music stands and very minimal staging. This is only our third day of rehearsal. We started on Wednesday and learned music. Today we started at the very top of the show and we started putting the show on its feet and minimally staging it. So we’ll get to the end of the first act today.
Violet has a giant scar on her face where she was hit by an ax. But in the production, I’m not going to actually be disfigured. I think imaginations are more powerful than anything that can be dictated. We had a big moment talking about what side of the face it was on, what it looked like. The director pulled up images of women with scars. It was kind of intense and we were looking at all of these images so people could get a sense of what it was. It is important for me as an actress to know what the character is living with on a daily basis, how it is for her to leave the house, to be seen that way and what she has to overcome to go on this journey. We actually spent a good chunk of time just talking about that.
Now that I’m back in New York, there are all of these little places that I’ve missed. I love Pret a Manger. They are everywhere here and they don’t have them in LA. It’s just one of my favorite places. And I love Chopped, the salad place. But I went to Pret and I got their spicy shrimp wrap and another coffee. Pretty simple.
I had my first costume fitting. I’m just wearing a simple dress but that was cool. All of a sudden all of the little pieces are starting to come together. We have a day off tomorrow and then on Sunday, we start again at 10am and probably have the show full staged by the end of the day on Sunday. So on Monday, we can begin to run it. It’s slightly terrifying but also exhilarating because the company is so fantastic. There are eleven people in the cast and everybody’s really game. Something happens in these short productions where everyone rallies together and just makes it happen. And the next thing you know, it’s over.
I left rehearsal and I walked uptown to work out. I work out at a place on the Upper West Side called Serious Strength, a slow strength training gym. It sounds very fancy. They call it a slow burn. It’s basically high weights at slow speed. It’s all machines and you work with a trainer one on one. You physically can only do three or four reps of something before you can’t do it at all. It’s like lifting a hundred pound weight that you can lift once, maybe twice. I don’t like working out and you only have to work out for thirty minutes so I thought, Okay. I can do THAT!
I’m on 64th and Broadway making my way back to my hotel. I’ve been walking in the rain and it’s so fun people watching. I didn’t bring an umbrella. It’s one of those days where half the people have an umbrella and half the people don’t and it’s all okay. It’s not torrential. I think, only in New York.
I think it’s going to be a pretty chill evening in. I’ve been going out a lot since I’ve been back. We saw Cradle Will Rock and went out to dinner last night with some friends. So I think tonight might be room service and movie on the TV kind of evening. We have a day off tomorrow from rehearsal so I’m going offline for 24 hours and try to relax while I can.
We’ll probably watch a movie, but I’m addicted to reality TV. I don’t watch a lot of television but I do have my little programs that I get excited about. Right now I’m obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance. It’s AWESOME and so much fun. I actually went to a taping of it in LA. I got invited to go. I went with one of my best friends and we just geeked out we were so excited.
For more information about Violet and Encores! Off-Center visit, nycitycenter.org/content/stage/off-center.aspx