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Shrek the Musical’s Sutton Foster on the Grave Seriousness of Onstage Farting

You may recognize Sutton Foster from her Tony-winning turn in Thoroughly Modern Millie or her Tony-nominated performances in Little Women and The Drowsy Chaperone. Or maybe you just know her as yodeling lab assistant Inga from Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. Regardless, the tall, sunny Georgia native has been a musical-theater darling since her 1996 Broadway debut in Grease. Now, after spending some time in Seattle for previews, she’s back on the New York stage as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical, opening Sunday. Vulture spoke with Foster about her costume, surviving the Broadwaypocalypse, and the hard work she put into mastering her role.

So Fiona seems to really want to be this proper princess, but her humor can be pretty crude. Are you more ladylike?
I think I’m more of a tomboy, an au naturel kind of hippie chick, in my life — not that I go around farting and burping, but I wasn’t intimidated by that song. We got that song right before I left for Seattle, and I was like, All right! yeah! She so desperately wants to be a princess, but all of those things don’t quite work in her body — and as soon as she starts farting and burping, she has a really great time! And I just love that, that she finds herself in just having fun with an ogre, with Shrek. And I love that she falls in love with him through something crude. There’s a little magic there, I think!

I imagine rehearsing that song with Brian d’Arcy James was pretty fun.
It was funny because we got the song, and we were working on it, and then we presented it basically to the cast because they hadn’t heard it, and the cast was like, “What is going on?!” It was just like peals of giggling laughter, and Brian and I were taking it very seriously, like, “This is a very serious scene of farting!”

What was your reaction when you first saw Brian in his Shrek costume?
It’s startling. Because of course you’re like, How are they going to do that? How are they going to make him Shrek? I saw pictures first, and I just circled around him, kind of like, How did they do this? Because even up close, it’s jaw-dropping, the transformation, what they’ve done. But I think what’s most impressive is that he really comes through, as opposed to him being in a bubble-head costume, where you can’t see his facial expression. He has a daughter, Grace, who’s just the sweetest thing. I’m like, Your dad is Shrek! That’s so cool!

Before this, you did Young Frankenstein. Are you sick of green at all?
And this time I have to wear it! I’m kind of like, Oh my God, what have I gotten into?

Last year you were on Flight of the Conchords. Any plans to return or do other TV?
Yeah! Conchords was an amazing experience, and I’d love to do other stuff like that. They’re great guys. Neither of them had seen Broadway shows, and I was doing The Drowsy Chaperone, and they both came and saw my show. My character on Conchords was so different than The Drowsy Chaperone — I was in jeans and sweaters, and then in Drowsy Chaperone I’m in sequins! And I think they were bedazzled. They were like, Whoa.

There have been a lot of Broadway closings announced recently. Is it something that gets talked about a lot?
It’s ultimately not useful to think about when I have to go out and perform. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that Broadway can weather the storm. At times like these, entertainment is a wonderful getaway, and for me, too, I can escape my troubles and worries and go out and perform for two and a half hours. But, yes, I’m nervous about it. I think these are good wake-up calls for everybody. I feel really ready to open the show and hopefully have a long, happy, healthy run.

Shrek the Musical’s Sutton Foster on the Grave Seriousness of Onstage Farting