Sutton Foster
(© Laura Marie Duncan)
Sutton Foster
(© Laura Marie Duncan)
Sutton Foster at the Carlyle, the Tony Award-winning star's thoroughly enchanting new show, does just what every first-rate cabaret show oughta do: give the fans both what they want and don't expect -- all the while painting the performer in a completely flattering light.

True, with her aw-shucks manner and shockingly pure voice, Foster is every kind of adorable and every shade of likeable. And her director, Mark Waldrop, has wisely kept the trappings to a minimum -- Foster is accompanied only by pianist Michael Rafter and guitarist Kevin Kuhn -- in order to focus on his star's prodigious gifts and winning personality.

She initially dips lightly but smartly into her Broadway catalogue, first in a cleverly crafted medley of three songs she performed on Broadway, "Not for the Life of Me," "NYC" and "Astonishing," and next in a full-bodied rendition of The Drowsy Chaperone's "Show Off," sung sans its original stage gimmicks (except one).

More affecting, however, is the 1920s standard "S'posin,' -- originally intended for Throughly Modern Millie -- paired with the song it eventually inspired, "Say That," which was dropped before the show hit New York. The savvy singer follows that pairing up with another "trunk song": "More to the Story," which was cut from Shrek before the show's Main Stem debut. It's a lovely tune, and Foster does it superbly, but one instantly sees how it would have slowed down the musical at the wrong moment.

Fortunately, the two numbers that will get theater lovers truly juiced come a bit later in the show. First, in what's a slightly silly gimmick, Foster will sing one of five megashowstoppers each night, but which one will be determined by an audience member. At her opening, her soon-to-be Off-Broadway co-star Zach Braff rigged the process to ensure Foster would sing "Defying Gravity," which despite her protestations, she sang flawlessly.

The act's piece de resistance, however, turns out to be an absolutely stunning medley of Stephen Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle" and "Being Alive" that almost brought some audience members to tears -- with her heartbreaking take on Jeff Blumenkrantz's "My Heart Was Set on You" a close second.

Foster can also take such almost-cliched (if admittedly great) pop tunes as Lennon and McCartney's "Here, There, and Everywhere," John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders," and Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Up on the Roof" and make them sound fresh and truly honest. And she shows a surprising dose of sass on Christine Lavin's "Air Conditioner" and Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen's "Down With Love."

Indeed, Sutton Foster doesn't mean to show off; she simply can do it all!