Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell in Roundabout Theatre Company revival...

Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell in Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" at the Stephejn Sondheim Theatre in Manhattan. (April 7, 2011) Credit: Handout

Sutton Foster has a seating-chart problem. When it comes to the Tony Awards, actors in musicals are usually seated together. Like those in dramas. So what to do with Foster, 36, nominated for best actress in a musical for her role in the revival of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," and boyfriend Bobby Cannavale, star of "The ---- With the Hat," who's up for best actor in a play?

"I told them, we WILL be sitting together, so you'll have to figure it out," she says, laughing.

They better. Odds are we'll be seeing the couple a lot, if next Sunday's Tony ceremony goes like last month's Drama Desk Awards, where Foster and Cannavale each won trophies.

This marks Foster's fifth Tony nomination, having won in 2002 after being plucked from the chorus to replace the original star in "Thoroughly Modern Millie." But for all her critical praise as a revered "triple threat" -- she acts, sings and dances -- audiences have never seen the ingenue play such a broad.

As Reno Sweeney, a role indelibly performed by Ethel Merman, then Patti LuPone in an acclaimed 1980s revival, Foster reveals a brassier side, which took some doing, she admits to Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio, who chatted with the Georgia native in her dressing room last month at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

 


Were you worried about following in the footsteps of Merman and LuPone?

Totally. During previews, I wasn't where I wanted to be. And I came so close to watching Patti's version. "Patti, lead the way! Show me how to do it!" But . . . I didn't. Honestly, this has been one of the most challenging roles. It was like therapy. I mean, Reno makes no apologies.

 


That's not you?

Not at all. I'm full of apologies and self-deprecating humor. That first scene, she walks into the bar and just stands there. I didn't know how to do it. I wanted to go "GUHHHH," and

make a face. Or something. But she just stands. So . . . I had to crack that first scene. I had notes all over my dressing room mirrors:

"Badass." "Fearless." "No apology."

 


To become super-confident?

As a Southerner, that type of confidence can be . . .

a negative. So it was a struggle. Now it's really fun to step into her shoes for two-and-a-half hours each night.

 


Except maybe for that huge dance number at the end of Act One.

The first time they played the dance break, I was like, "What?!" It's eight minutes long. We had our first preview and the audience went crazy. And I just burst into tears.

 


You dance, then belt out -- what -- a high D?

Yeah. It's a D. The scariest moment of the show. Top of my range. And, y'know, I don't always . . . nail it. [She smiles.]

 


Did you ask for any advice from your brother ?

We don't really talk about the business. We talk about . . . life. Memorial Day weekends and barbecues. It's kinda nice, actually.

What's it like working with the legendary Joel Grey?

He just turned 79, which is . . . amazing. He's like a kindred spirit. I just adore him. He's . . . magic. He always has a twinkle in his eye, and you never know quite what he's gonna do onstage. He's a bit of a devil.

 


I hear you're teaching these days.

I've taught two semesters at NYU as an adjunct faculty member -- makes me sound so fancy. And at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I've traveled there twice and taught master classes. The students are great. They're like, "Professor Foster, we're comin' to see the show." People always ask, 'What's your biggest advice?' I say, 'Just don't be a . . . a . . . "

 


A jerk?

Yeah. Kindness and respect go a long way. I really believe that. You can make it in this business and still have a sense of humor. It's great to be able to share that with the next generation. I'll be begging them for jobs one day.

 


Well . . . maybe. For now, you and Bobby Cannavale don't seem to have any job woes. Except maybe when to take a vacation.

It's hard for me to relax, slow down. But a vacation that involves sand, ocean and mai tais would be mighty nice. That's what we're aiming for.

 


Whenever you two walk into a room, women must have you in their gun sights. Is that intimidating?

I just feel honored to be on his arm. I feel like we're equals. We've only been together about 10 months, so it's still pretty new. We're just getting to know each other, and it's been . . . good. And, yeah, he's definitely not bad to look at. But it's what's on the inside that counts.

Top Stories