Review: Sutton Foster Reflects on Honing Her Craft (While Crafting) in Hooked
Foster's new memoir will be released October 12.
Sutton Foster is one of Broadway's most unpretentious superstars, so it shouldn't be surprising that the cover of her new memoir, Hooked, presents the actor in jeans and no makeup, sitting cross-legged in a pile of yarn. Wait, what? Yarn? The book's subtitle, "How Crafting Saved My Life," suggests that Foster is aiming for a slot on the DIY Network rather than reprising her Tony-winning Anything Goes performance in London before joining Hugh Jackman in the long-delayed Broadway revival of The Music Man.
And yet that folksy cover photo and chipper introduction advising readers to "get a hobby" sets the stage for poignant stories of Foster's difficult childhood, bumpy romantic life, and backstage tribulations. The book ends happily — with marriage to a great guy, an adorable young daughter, and a hit TV show — but along the way, her often jarring recollections make it clear why this charismatic leading lady turned to cross-stitch, crocheting, and collage-making to alleviate stress.
Foster's North Carolina-born mother looms large in Hooked. The former Helen Dale Jackson defied her father to marry a car salesman who moved the family to various small towns in Georgia before settling in Detroit. Foster began dance classes at age 4, following the lead of her older brother, Hunter, and won the title role in a local production of Annie at 10.
One might assume that Helen was a Mama Rose-type to have raised two children who became famous on the New York stage, but Foster describes an anxious, withholding woman unmoored by an affair her husband had when the kids were in middle school. (The couple stayed together and lived unhappily ever after until Helen's death in 2013.) By the time the Foster siblings performed on the 2002 Tony telecast as the stars of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Urinetown, Helen had become a sullen agoraphobic who refused to speak to her son and, four years later, didn't attend her daughter's wedding to Christian Borle.
A decade before being promoted from understudy to title star in Millie, 17-year-old Foster skipped her senior year of high school to tour as a scantily clad showgirl in The Will Rogers Follies. Her combination of offstage innocence and onstage magnetism led to bullying from the older, more jaded ensemble members, a pattern that continued when she toured in Grease. When the actor playing Sandy sent word that Foster, her understudy, should stop looking at her, the unhappy teen headed to Jo-Ann Fabric and taught herself to cross-stitch. "In order to survive the tour, I needed something to do that would ground me," she explains. "Something that had nothing to do with the show or its social politics."
Once she made it to New York as the aptly named "Star to Be" in a Broadway revival of Annie, Foster's dazzling triple-threat talent led to a pair of Best Actress Tonys (for Millie and Anything Goes) and four additional nominations. Behind the scenes, life was messier: Her marriage to Borle, who is treated warmly throughout the book, ended; a relationship with Bobby Cannavale sparked and then fizzled; her mother perversely passed along unflattering comments from theatrical message boards. Years of therapy helped, as did a move to Los Angeles in 2011 to star in the Amy Sherman-Palladino sitcom Bunheads. Foster celebrated this new season in her life by making a giant "Badass" paper-on-plywood collage, an homage to the actor she admires most.
A stand-alone chapter in Hooked titled "An Ode to Patti LuPone" reveals a lot about two stars who would appear to have not much in common beyond acclaimed performances as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. "I had always depended on the permission and approval of others — it was exhausting," Foster writes. "It finally clicked with me that life didn't have to be that way. That revelation was part of a long journey that started, as so many great journeys do, with Patti LuPone. In my mind, no one epitomizes a badass more than her."
Foster met LuPone a few times over the years, and being cast in Anything Goes seemed meant to be — until rehearsals began and she struggled to embody the brassy character: "I thought, Why am I so afraid of this? Nothing bad will happen if I allow myself to be big. To be bold and strong and powerful." Decades of self-deprecation finally melted away, and the resulting performance earned a gushing reaction from LuPone herself.
Breaking the narrative of the rest of the book, Foster ends the chapter with the transcript of a Q&A she conducted with LuPone via Zoom last year. They share Broadway war stories, commiserate about unsupportive mothers, and confess that the only place they feel fearless is onstage. Then LuPone delivers the ultimate benediction: "I love everything about you, because we're the same person."
The final third of the book charts Foster's quest for motherhood while starring on TV in Younger, a process sparked by her marriage to Ocean's Eleven screenwriter Ted Griffin in 2014. They didn't kiss until their fifth date, but Foster quickly realized she'd found a low-key, trustworthy partner unthreatened by her success. The couple secretly embarked on a heartbreaking series of fertility treatments and, in 2017, became the adoptive parents of newborn Emily Dale Griffin, whose adventures are chronicled on Sutton's Instagram account.
By including recipes, gardening tips, and detailed instructions for crocheting a "Badass" baby blanket, Foster signals that Hooked isn't intended to be a straightforward autobiography in the style of the book LuPone published in 2010. There's no photo section with Foster triumphantly holding her Tonys; no childhood snapshots with Hunter and her parents; no wedding photo with Ted. But despite her insistence that she feels "as passionate about crafting as I am about singing, dancing, and acting," Foster's deep love for live performance comes through on every page of this heartfelt memoir. "My mantra, to this day, is: 'I worked my entire life to be at this moment. I can allow this to be good,'" she says. "It gives me permission to own my talent."
Hooked, by Sutton Foster is on sale beginning October 12. Purchase the book here (paid link).