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ARTS by George -- with Sutton Foster

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

Sutton Foster has been one of Broadway brightest lights ever since she walked away with a fistful of prizes for her reign in the title role of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," among them the 2002 Tony Award for best leading actress in a musical. This week she lights up the stage of George Mason University's Center for the Arts as the star of the 7th Annual ARTS by George!

"In putting together the program with my longtime music director, Michael Rafter, I decided to include songs I recently did in a concert at New York's Cafe Carlyle, some from Broadway and my albums, and six or seven new songs," she said. "It will be a full evening, so I probably won't do any dancing."

Foster began dancing at age 4 and added singing to her talents by 10 when she became involved in community theater. At the same time, her actor/playwright brother, Hunter, was also preparing for a career in the arts. The family supported the kids' interest, with their mother scouring the paper for notices of auditions.

Foster spent a year at Carnegie Mellon University before trying her luck in New York. From understudy for Sandy in "Grease," she moved on to "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "Annie" and "Les Miserables" as the understudy for Eponine. Still, she was regarded as an unknown when luck stepped in following the final rehearsals of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. At the last minute, she was tapped to replace the leading lady, following in a Broadway tradition of stars plucked from the chorus line.

Onstage
ARTS by George!
Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
When: Performance 8 p.m. Saturday, benefit starts at 5
Info: $40 to $70, or as part of the benefit for $200; 703-993-4188,; cfa.gmu.edu

When she is not on Broadway, she performs at such venues as the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Feinstein's and the Kennedy Center. She even teaches at New York University's New Studio on Broadway. Since 2010, she has presented master classes, led workshops, taught classes and co-directed a production of "The Drowsy Chaperone" at Ball State University. As the guest speaker at the 2012 commencement, she received an honorary fine arts doctorate.

"I'd love to teach on a university level in the future," she said. "In high school, my drama teacher was my biggest mentor, but today's students interested in the theater need support from many people. It's important for those of us who have succeeded to be fruitful by giving back and supporting the next generation of performers. I love to give advice, so when Ball State contacted my agency six years ago, I was delighted to spend a week and half on the campus." It's difficult to imagine how Foster sets aside free time from her nonstop schedule. Recently she became the lead of "Bunheads," a new ABC Family series.

"A lot had to do with the writing," she said. "I had known Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of 'Gilmore Girls,' for some time and was a huge fan. This show is a perfect fit for me because it's about a dancer, teaching, the arts and things that matter to me."

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