It's a rite of passage for the leading ladies of the Broadway stage -- Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O'Hara, and Victoria Clark to name a few -- to record a solo CD. Now, you can add Tony Award winner Sutton Foster to the club, whose first outing Wish (Ghostlight Records) will be officially released on February 17. The Shrek star will also have a chance to perform some of the songs live this month, at her February 19 appearance as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series and at a CD signing and performance at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle on Friday, February 27.

One might have expected Foster's disc to come out in the wake of her Tony-winning performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and it almost happened that way. "After Millie, I was asked to do an American Songbook concert, and my musical director, Michael Rafter, and I had to start pulling songs -- some of which eventually ended up on the CD," she says. "But over the next couple of years, the time never really felt right, plus you really need to devote a lot of time to make a CD. And I felt like we still hadn't found the right tone or the right voice. Then I did this concert at Joe's Pub right before I did The Drowsy Chaperone -- where we found more songs with the help of my director, Mark Waldrop. And when there was this window after Drowsy but before Young Frankenstein and Shrek, we knew it was like now or never. So we set a timeline and we got it done."

To call the CD's 15 selections eclectic is a bit of an understatement, as they range from show tunes like "Oklahoma!" and "Warm All Over'" to pop standards like 'Up On the Roof," to the cabaret favorite "Flight," to lesser-known tunes like Maury Yeston's "Danglin'." But there's nothing from any of her Broadway shows, although she did briefly consider doing a reinterpretation of one of the songs from Millie.

Brian d'Arcy James, Daniel Breaker, and Sutton Foster in Shrek The Musical
(© Joan Marcus)
Brian d'Arcy James, Daniel Breaker,
and Sutton Foster in Shrek The Musical
(© Joan Marcus)
"The one constant is that they had to speak to me lyrically," she notes. "And we really wanted to introduce songs people didn't know and to unearth some hidden gems. I didn't want it to be predictable or just a CD of Broadway tunes -- like Sutton belts all the classics. I wanted it to be a window on who I am as a person and as an artist. And I know you can't please everyone, so I tried to please myself."

That said, Foster says the selection process was essentially democratic. "I trust Michael and Mark completely. so I thought if there was a song that one of us was really iffy on, we shouldn't do it.," she says. But that doesn't mean every song choice was met with instant approval. "Michael brought in this Noel Coward song, 'The Wild Wild Weather,' and I had never heard it before, and it took a while for it grow on me. And the day I brought in John Denver's Greatest Hits, Michael went 'oh, no.' But Sunshine on My Shoulders has ended up being one of our favorite cuts."

She was also determined to include a song by one of her idols, country singer-songwriter Patty Griffin; in this case, a wonderful tune called "Nobody's Crying." Says Foster: "She's so amazing. I was first introduced to her when I did the workshop of the musical 10 Million Miles. I thought her songs were so theatrical; they're such great story songs. But it was hard to record that track, because I admire her so much that I was a bit nervous."

As it happens, Foster has been back to the recording studio since Wish -- for the original cast recording of Shrek (due out on March 3), which she calls the most fun show she's ever done. "Playing Princess Fiona has been such a joy, the whole experience has just been fantastic," she says. "And what's cool is that we're reaching audiences of all ages. I feel so lucky to be part of it."

And, yes, she's already begun to think about a second solo recording. "I think that one will be a little more theater-oriented and more heavily orchestrated," she says, adding that she might also make it a family affair: "I'd love to do a duet with my brother, Hunter."