LOS ANGELES – On a Hollywood soundstage, a pair of talent agents are turning on the charm for Sutton Foster, the Tony Award-winning toast of Broadway.
The eager suits can save the smooth patter. Foster has already made her move, a sharp turn from musical theater into TV with ABC Familys Bunheads.
Its like the role of a lifetime. It just happens to be on a television show, said Foster, whose beguilingly wide grin is a perfect fit for the small screen.
Bunheads – slang for ballerinas, with their oh-so-perfectly coiled hair – has a gawky name but a great pedigree. It combines the witty pen of Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino with Fosters star power, adding Gilmore and fellow Broadway alumna Kelly Bishop as a bonus.
Foster plays Michelle Simms, a ballet dancer who lost her emotional balance and fell into the daily grind of an underpaid, underloved Las Vegas showgirl. In the debut episode (9 p.m. today), Michelles life takes another, equally unexpected turn into small-town life that includes Bishops worldly dance school owner.
The mythic California seaside village of Paradise is where Michelle lands. Foster has taken on a more daunting city, sprawling Los Angeles, after making her name as a musical theater wonder during 17 years in New York. Turns out that Foster, 37, a Georgia native, was eager to hoof it after long feeling married to New York.
I was ready, personally and creatively, to broaden my horizons and look beyond theater. I was just ready for a change of pace, she said.
Doing Reno Sweeney and Anything Goes, that whole experience became like a pinnacle for me. I overcame so much and it was so challenging and yet so rewarding. After that, I wanted to take a little bit of a turn and try something new.
Along came Sherman-Palladino, who, after a post-Gilmore stumble (The Return of Jezebel James), had whipped up a little something that reflected the writers own background (shes the daughter of a dancer, and dance was her first career) and it proved a perfect fit for Foster.
Sherman-Palladino realized that after seeing the actress as Reno in Anything Goes. Fosters stage vehicles, which Sherman-Palladino describes as big, brassy, old-fashioned shows, didnt mesh with the writer-producers style.
But Foster did.
There was something about her that was so captivating and so weirdly soft and emotional even in this brassy part, Sherman-Palladino said.
She called ABC Family executive Kate Juergens to tell her, I think she could be the girl Im writing this part for.
Foster returns the love, and then some. When she first met Sherman-Palladino in New York, I was a supergeeko fan on her.
The actress said she treasures her DVDs of Gilmore Girls, the coming-of-age series about a mom and daughter (Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel).
Bishop, herself a Tony Award winner for Chorus Line, said shes delighted Foster is tackling TV.
I told her, You own Broadway, so own the rest of the country, Bishop said. Shes such a talent and a joy to work with. She carries that theater discipline with her: lots of stamina and concentration.
Grown-ups arent the sole focus of Bunheads. The studio run by Bishops character, Fanny, attracts teenagers with their own big dreams and big issues, including Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles), Ginny (Bailey Buntain) and Melanie (Emma Dumont).