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An Evening with Sutton Foster - Live at the Café Carlyle

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Album Review

If Broadway had a reigning diva as of 2010, it was probably Sutton Foster, who had worked more or less without letup in starring roles in musicals starting with Thoroughly Modern Millie and continuing with Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Shrek. After Shrek's closing, however, she was available for two weeks to try cabaret at New York's prestigious Café Carlyle in connection with her debut solo album, Wish, and this recording was made on the last night of her run. The café is not only tony, it's tiny, so that on live albums made there, it sometimes seems possible to identify every set of clapping hands. In this performance, Foster wisely plays to the little crowd, using the same comic charm she has brought to her stage roles. Naturally, she includes some of the songs associated with her musicals, notably "Show Off," her stand-out number from The Drowsy Chaperone, a humorous number in which the singer protests, "I don't want to show off" while doing exactly that. You can't help thinking a video would have done better justice to it than this mere audio experience, but it's still very funny. For Shrek, Foster includes the cut song "More to the Story," which is good enough to make it regrettable that she couldn't have sung it on Broadway. Elsewhere, the set is an expected combination of other show tunes and some mostly good pop songs (John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders" just doesn't measure up to the attention Foster gives it). At one point, she introduces a piece of audience participation by putting the names of five Broadway showstoppers in a cup and having someone pick the next song. It turns out to be "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, which Foster then renders as if channeling Idina Menzel. Their voices are similar, but when, at the end, she encores with another song from the cup, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls, she again impersonates the woman who sang it originally, Jennifer Holliday, this time to audience laughter. Foster certainly has the pipes for such songs, but maybe she should find her own interpretations of them if she's going to sing them; here, they sound, inappropriately, like parodies.

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