CD Review: TAKE ME TO THE WORLD (Sutton Foster)

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by Eve Meadows on June 19, 2018



I’m a huge fan of Sutton Foster: Her work is stunning on Original Cast Albums like Violet, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Anything Goes (which I think is far superior to the Patti LuPone version). So it’s a shame that her latest CD is such a mixed effort; there’s an “A” for well-intentioned, but it simply goes all over the musical map.

It’s surprising that she vocally uses that unnecessary modern Broadway ornamentation which can make her sound more like a high school student imitating Les Miz and less a Broadway superstar, especially on a medley of Sondheim’s “Take Me to the World” and Maltby & Shire’s “Starting Here, Starting Now”; it’s all polish, chirpy belt and little distinction.

You can just picture her with arms akimbo as she negates a cockeyed optimist and instead becomes an optimistic cheerleader in another medley, Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” and Kander & Ebb’s affirmative “Yes” (from 70, Girls, 70). And there’s even more medleys, some of them starting promisingly enough then turning to overly sentimental. Foster, being a faculty member at Ball State University with her longtime arranger Michael Rafter (who does some inventive work here), brought on some of her students for “I’m on My Way” (Violet) and “On My Way” (a traditional Gospel song); it begins with Foster joined by her Broadway contemporaries Megan McGinnis and Darcie Roberts doing lovely harmonies but soon feels like a glee club that you’d bring your parents to.

It’s at this time that I wondered who this album is for. The liner notes make it clear: In trying to celebrate her new daughter and the folks at Ball University, the CD just becomes too precious (for my taste, anyway — maybe there are some moms and daughters who can bond over this). When Foster starts the lovely “It’s a Quiet Thing” (introduced in 1965 by Liza Minnelli in Kander and Ebb’s Flora the Red Menace), it is immediately transporting; yet when it suddenly becomes a medley with “Hush, Little Baby” (also including McGinnis), a love song for everyone feels like a lullaby for expectant mothers, and it’s just too twee to resonate. An interesting arrangement brings together two up tunes as a slow-building medley (also including the equally power-lung Ms. Roberts): “I Got Love” (Purlie) and “Gimme, Gimme” (Millie); it’s cute but it ain’t “Happy Days Are Here Again”/”Get Happy.”

After the first three cuts — accompanied by a small combo — the magnificent Ball State Symphony Orchestra embellishes a skippy-dippy version of yet another medley: “If I Were a Bell” (Guys and Dolls) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (it’s a shame we don’t get to see Foster dance!). Later, the band, under Douglas Droste’s tight conducting, amazes with three Cole Porter tunes: a deliciously slow version of “C’est Magnifique”; a swelling choral take on “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (I wonder why this is called a “bonus track” — why isn’t it just a track?); and “Give Him the Ooh-La-La,” although Foster’s voice isn’t idiosyncratic enough to take on this kind of jazzy flavor.

Because she’s such an incredible storyteller, she positively soars on Jason Robert Brown’s “Stars and the Moon.” She also sounds lovely on Shaina Taub’s “Room.” And talk about gorgeous vocals and blends when McGinnis joins her again on another medley (that’s medleys for half of the 14 tracks!), but the polyphonic a capella arrangement of Paul Simon’s “Bookends” and “Old Friends” fails at being haunting and reflective. While Foster keeps that unnecessary twanging thing going on now and then, her girlish demeanor works for James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes,” and I loved her emotion in the terrific “It All Fades Away” from Brown’s Bridges of Madison County.

Foster produced this, her third non-Original Cast record, and I believe she got exactly what she was going for. Only you can decide if it’s something that suits your taste.

Take Me to The World
Sutton Foster
Ghostlight Records
14 tracks | 47:03 | released June 1, 2018
available at Ghostlight and Amazon

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