For nearly two years, Broadway has been without one of its biggest stars - but that will soon change. Two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster hasn't been in a production on the Great White Way since she finished her Tony-winning role in the revival of "Anything Goes" in March 2012.
Foster will return to the stage this March in the musical "Violet," which was an Off-Broadway hit in 1997. Rehearsals for that show begin on Feb. 19, but first, she'll hit the stage at Penn State University Park's Eisenhower Auditorium for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15.
The perky Foster, known for her wide, beaming smile, spoke with the Mirror recently from a tour stop in Los Angeles. She said she is looking forward to returning to the Broadway stage.
"I'm really excited," she said. "It's a show that I feel very passionate about. I love the character. It's really different from anything I've ever done before. ... I think it's going to be a great experience."
According to Foster, "Violet" is the story of a young woman in 1964 who is leaving home for the first time. She has a scar on her face from an accident when she was younger.
"It's really a story about beauty and inner and outer faith," Foster said. "She leaves her home and travels to Oklahoma to be 'healed' by a preacher. She believes that if he can take away this scar, her life will be better.
If you go
Who: "An Evening with Sutton Foster"
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15
Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, Penn State University Park campus
Tickets: $45 for adults, $35 for those ages 18 and younger and $15 for University Park students
"It's a really simple story with beautiful music."
Foster, 38, became a national name in 2002, when she replaced actress Erin Dilly as the lead in a big-budget adaptation of the film "Thoroughly Modern Millie." "Millie" was a huge hit, taking home six Tony Awards, including best musical. Foster, in her first lead role, won the Tony for best leading actress in a musical, the Drama Desk award for outstanding actress in a musical and the Outer Critics Circle award for outstanding actress in a musical.
The acclaim opened up a world of starring roles for Foster. She starred in a musical adaptation of "Little Women" and originated the lead roles in "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Young Frankenstein" and "Shrek." Add in "Anything Goes" and Foster has been nominated for the best lead actress Tony in five of her six starring Broadway roles ("Young Frankenstein" being the lone miss).
She left Broadway in 2012 to star in the ABC Family television show "Bunheads," featuring Foster as a former Las Vegas showgirl now teaching ballet in her new husband's small home town. Despite critical acclaim, the show was cancelled after just one season.
"['Bunheads'] was awesome. I loved it," Foster said. "It was an amazing show and I loved every single part of it. I wish it could have gone on forever. I learned so much about how to work on camera and be on television."
And she hasn't given up on the small screen either.
"The week before we go to Penn State, I'm filming a pilot called 'Younger' for TV Land," she said.
Having shown off her silky smooth voice on Broadway, it was a natural step for Foster to move into music. She has released two solo albums, 2009's "Wish" and 2011's "An Evening with Sutton Foster: Live at the Cafe Carlyle." Her collaborator on the albums, pianist Michael Rafter, performs with her during her current tour.
"My music director, Michael, we've done two albums together; We actually met on 'Thoroughly Modern Millie,'" Foster said. "We're starting a new album together. ... We're really using these concerts as an opportunity to try out new material, or at least material that's new to me.
"The interesting thing about our collaboration is that we never want to rush things, so things can end up taking a long time," she said with a laugh.
Her concert tour began last year and features an eclectic mix of familiar songs and more obscure tracks.
"We kind of want to explore other sides of me," Foster said. "I think I'm known for belting out these big Broadway songs. There's a lot of American songbook, a lot of jazzy things, some Hoagy Carmichael, there's a James Taylor tune. There's a real big variety."
Foster's Penn State performance comes on Valentine's Day weekend, a boon for the Center for the Performing Arts, which is presenting the show.
"This is kind of turning out to be a Valentines' Day [event] for a lot of people," said Laura Sullivan, director of marketing at the CPA. "People are sort of wrapping this up with dinner and whatever else as a nice gift. I think the timing is good for us."
The show also ties in nicely with the CPA's popular Broadway series, she said.
"Our Broadway patrons are pretty enthusiastic about everything Broadway-related that we offer. And of course, Sutton Foster has won many awards [for her stage work]," Sullivan said.
So with Valentine's Day on everyone's mind, will love be in the air during Foster's concert?
"I feel like every song has a bit of love involved in it," she said. "Our show already has quite a bit of love represented.
"We certainly have a lot of sad songs, but I think we could probably afford to throw in some happy songs to give people some hope!" she added with a laugh.
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.