- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - There were two visitors to Sutton Foster’s Broadway dressing room the other day.

One was a new friend, the other an old one. One makes beautiful music. One just barks.

Foster was entertaining composer Jeanine Tesori, who has written the music for Foster’s latest show, and Mabel, her new fluffy pup rescued from a Texas animal shelter and just spayed.

“She’ll just lick you to death,” Foster warns about the terrier-and-dachshund mix.

The mood is decidedly mellow backstage at the American Airlines Theatre, where Foster and Tesori are putting the final touches on “Violet,” a musical that marks their third Broadway collaboration.

“Is this our third?” asks Tesori. “It feels like more because I’ve seen you so much in concert. And I always feel like I write everything for Sutton.”

Foster agrees: “It sort of feels like family.”

They first met in 2000, when Foster was the understudy during a regional test run of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” for which Tesori contributed new music. Foster would eventually take the main Millie role to Broadway and win the first of her two Tony Awards. The pair also worked on 2008’s “Shrek the Musical.”

They reconnected last summer when Tesori called to ask Foster if she might star in a concert version of her first show, “Violet,” about a disfigured young woman in search of healing in 1964.

The story follows a North Carolina woman whose father accidentally hits her face with an ax as a teen, scarring her face and soul. Years later, she goes on a cross-country bus trip hoping to be healed by a televangelist and falls for a womanizing soldier. Tesori’s score is rooted in Appalachian melodies with emphasis on gospel, bluegrass, blues and country.

Foster was aware of some of the music, but that didn’t really matter.

“Whenever she calls and says anything, I’m like, ‘Yes. Where? When? How?’” says Foster. “I have a handful of people I would follow anywhere, and Jeanine is one of them.”

Tesori felt “Violet” had another chapter. It had premiered off-Broadway in 1997 and became a cult favorite. The composer had gone on to write music to such hits as “Caroline, or Change” and “Fun Home,” but “Violet,” based on a short story by Doris Betts, still itched.

“I think that there are works that you think about as stepping stones and there are works that you want to bring back. This one was unclear,” says Tesori.

It got much clearer after Foster led a stirring one-night-only concert version that was hailed by critics. It was stripped-down - no costume changes, no fancy sets - which added to its charm, and that vision will follow onto Broadway.

“The spectacle of our show is the unspectacle of it,” says Foster. “I think that’s really unexpected and beautiful, especially in this day and age. I think it’s a gift. It’s a gift as an actor to just be able to stand onstage and sing and act and relate and not have to worry about something flying in or whatever.”

That even translates to Foster’s preparation. Unlike the glitzy “Shrek,” Foster has minimal makeup this time, not even a scar.

“I think Sutton has to take makeup off to go onstage,” says Tesori, laughing.

“I feel like peoples’ imaginations are better than anything we could ever paint,” says Foster.

The singer and actress, whose Los Angeles-based TV show “Bunheads” has been canceled, has now found herself back in New York, with her fiance and a dog and once again on Broadway, where she had triumphed in the bubbly “Anything Goes” two years ago. Now she is Violet.

“She wears a coat of spikes to face the world, and she’s got a nasty tongue, and she truly believes she’s ugly inside and out,” says Foster. “It’s fun to play a character with such grit and snark and bite and hunger and rage and fury and passion.”


Mark Kennedy is at https://twitter.com/KennedyTwits


Online: https://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/violet.aspx

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