Sutton Foster, one of the shining lights of New York City’s currently dimmed theater scene, glowed in Sutton Foster/Bring Me to Light. Her voice and interpretations were the richest they have ever been. Add to this her choice of repertoire and her talented guests and Bring Me to Light is a beacon of light in a dark year.
As we see New York City Center’s backstage staff prepare for the performance, Foster performed the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Cockeyed Optimist” segueing to Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” and Kander and Ebb’s “Yes,” all upbeat, optimistic songs that should resonate with today’s pandemic-strained audiences.
In fact, each number in Bring Me to Light took on an unspoken new meaning connecting it to the overwhelming circumstances in which we find ourselves. For instance, the odd choice of “The Impossible Dream” (Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion), usually boomed by a baritone, was, as Foster sang it, a surprisingly cliché-free expression of courage.
Sutton’s jauntily sung “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Harry James and Don George) could be taken as a portent of the end of our Covid troubles and The Gershwins’ “Slap That Bass,” led by Leo Huppert’s happy bass fiddle slapping, an invitation to get out and enjoy ourselves.
Raúl Esparza, Foster’s first guest artist, soon joined her in “With So Little to Be Sure Of” (Sondheim), the sad/beautiful hymn to living for today. As they faced each other—socially distanced—electric currents ran between them as they reached the quietly determined finale of the song.
Quite touching also was Foster’s return to her Violet success singing the lovely, adult lullaby “Lay Down Your Head,” accompanied by its composer Jeanine Tesori.
Joaquina Kalukango, who previously shared a City Center stage with Foster in The Wild Party, belted out a high energy “The Life of the Party” from that show written by Andrew Lippa. The young Wren Rivera, one of Foster’s students at Ball State University, was able to display her fine training and dramatic personality in “Here I Am” (Jamie Houston), firmly declaring her determination to succeed: a great beginning.
Kelli O’Hara, another theater diva, joined Foster in a clear-eyed “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell), sung from the point of view of two mature women, turning what has become cloying into a genuinely heartfelt number.
After a few more beautifully performed numbers, the entire cast came together in an uplifting medley that ended with the title song, “Bring Me to Light” (Tesori and Brian Crawley). The lights faded until all were silhouettes against the backdrop. (Lighting by Amith Chandrashaker.)
The show’s musical director Michael Rafter on piano along with Matt Hinkley on guitar and ukulele provided accompaniment of surprising color and nuance.
Sutton Foster’s Bring Me to Light was directed by Leigh Silverman with a light touch.
Sutton Foster: Bring Me to Light (streaming April 28 – May 31, 2021)
For tickets: http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: one hour