Sutton Foster on “The Music Man”, Broadway, Hugh Jackman and 28
Nine months before Sutton Foster turned 28, she won her first Tony Award. She was performing on Broadway as the main character in the show Jazz Age Resolutely modern Milliewho brought home six Tony Awards in 2002, and racking up accolades for his comedic chops and seriousness on stage — and winning fans in tandem. The Georgia native had already been a successful theater actor for years, but Millie made her a star. Offstage, however, Foster didn’t feel as confident.
“It was the start of a search to find other things that brought me happiness outside of the show,” she told Bustle. “I felt like my reality, my identity, was tied to being a performer.” At the time, she was living with her then-boyfriend, a fellow actor Christian Borlein a New York apartment a few blocks from Millie‘s Marquis Theatre, meaning she could walk to work in about 10 minutes. A year into the series, Borle could walk with her, having replaced Gavin Creel as Millie’s love interest. “I was kind of 100% Millie,” says Foster, who is now 46.
In the decades that followed, she worked to remedy this focus on the stage. She leaned into the craft, as described in her 2021 memoir, Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Lifeand helmed a highly acclaimed seven-season television comedy, Youngerwhose finale aired last summer.
“I wasn’t ready to be a mom or start a family, but I wanted to start taking care of something.”
And now, back to Broadway. This spring, Foster stars alongside Hugh Jackman in a wildly lavish revival of The music manWho opened last week after a delay of more than a year caused by the pandemic closures. “I’m having a really good time,” she says of the show, which ends with an exciting sandals between her and Jackman. “After what we’ve been through, as human beings, and what we’re still living with, it’s a very powerful [story] and it’s incredibly joyful.
Along with dazzling as a rule-enforcing librarian named Marian, Foster has also found herself taking on a new role behind the scenes: as a knowledge giver to her many young co-stars. “We have 20 Broadway debuts,” she says of The music man. “They will ask [for] tips on performing, or what to wear to the opening. She describes her role as “motherly” rather than a mentor – it’s her first time on Broadway since become a mom in 2017. “That mommy gene got pretty hardcore!”
Below, the two-time Tony winner recalls unusual goldfish, 11-course meals and her success in her late twenties.
What was your life like in 2003, when you were 28?
I remember struggling a lot with my anxiety, struggling to attend a big Broadway show and finding balance and perspective. I wasn’t ready to be a mom or start a family, but I wanted to start taking care of something. So I went through a planting phase and started keeping African violets. I had, like, 20 African violets, and I’d make more in [propagating them]. And then I went through a goldfish phase. I had all these crazy types of goldfish. I was desperately trying to find something. Eventually I got a hamster, and I think Christian was about to kill me when I brought the hamster home. Her name was Judy Jingles.
How has winning the Tony recalibrated your career?
It was like a dream. I was born in Georgia, but spent my high school years in Michigan. And this is before the Internet, so the Tony Awards were [the only time] when musical theater entered our living room. I remember practicing my tony awards speech with my hairbrush in front of the mirror at 15, but when it all happened it was very surreal. It wasn’t an instant recalibration of [my] career – apart from every time your name is mentioned, there’s “Tony Award winner” attached to it.
How has Christian joining the show changed your experience with it?
We worked together, lived together, raised goldfish together. It was actually a very good moment, very positive. It was like the first time I really made a house. Until then I [had been] no longer passing through, on tour or living in suitcases.
What was your idea of a madness at the time?
Buy an exotic goldfish, of course! [Laughs.] It was my first time earning money, but I was raised so frugally, so I wasn’t one to splurge. One of our favorite activities was going out [for] a very good meal. One Sunday evening after a show, we were going to a fancy place. do you remember In itself? You get, like, an 11-course meal. We would somehow mark a table at Per Se and sit there like two dazed teenagers, eating until we exploded.
What career did you see as something you wanted for yourself?
I’ve always admired Patti LuPone. I grew up watching it as a kid. I remember seeing her perform at the Carnegie Hall Sondheim celebration. I was probably 15 or 16, and she sang “Being Alive” by Society. My parents had bought me the CD and DVD of this concert, and I listened to it over and over. There was something about Patti’s mastery of the stage that was both terrifying and exhilarating.
When I was doing Millie, I started taking singing lessons with a teacher named Joan Lader, with whom I still study. A day after my lesson, Patti LuPone walks in for hers. I thought I was going to lose my mind, that Patti and I took voice lessons from the same teacher. That’s when I realized, “Oh my God, that person I used to watch on TV and idolize – now we’re kind of in the same orbit.”
Was there a time when you felt like you really made it?
That’s such a New York comment, but I really felt like I had succeeded when I finally got an apartment that had a washer and dryer in [unit]. I swear to God, I was like, “I did it! I have success! I no longer need to put my clothes in a laundromat!
What would your 28-year-old self think of Sutton Foster today?
I think she would be proud of herself, that she somehow found her calling. I wish I could say to my 28-year-old self, “You will find yourself. You won’t need 15 goldfish. Are you doing well.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The music man is currently playing at the Winter Garden Theater (1634 Broadway) in New York.