Sutton Foster in Bunheads—Shades of Heather Watts???

posted by Wendy Perron on Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012
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Heather Watts on the cover of Dance Magazine's February 1980 issue

The new TV show Bunheads has something no other dance show has: Sutton Foster. The frustrating thing is that she doesn’t dance much, she doesn’t tap at all (she’s a fabulous tapper—see our cover story), and she doesn’t sing (she has a fabulous voice too). But she is an incredible actor, and it’s worth slogging through the ridiculous plotline to see her play her sarcastic-but-loving character Michelle to the hilt.

Here’s a surprise: Amy Sherman-Palladino, who conceived and wrote the show, said in a Vulture interview that she based Michelle on Heather Watts. A showgirl based on a ballerina? Apparently Sherman-Palladino studied at the same school as Heather. But whether that was the School of American Ballet or her school back in Chatsworth, California is unclear. (Anyone have a guess? Email me at wperron@dancemedia.com.)

If you happen to have the February 1980 issue of Dance Magazine, read the terrific cover story on Heather Watts. I only saw her dance once, in Balanchine’s Bugaku, and can attest to her being as fascinating onstage as John Gruen describes in this story. I salute the Bunheads writer for trying to imagine what a live-wire character like Heather Watts would have done if she hadn’t re-committed herself to ballet. But I wonder if Sherman-Palladino knows that Heather is now teaching dance at Harvard and just earned an honorary degree at Hunter.

And if their school in common was in Chatsworth, does that mean that the character played by Kelly Bishop is based on their teacher, Sheila Rozann? Maybe so. Bishop was the orignal Sheila in A Chorus Line and now she’s another brassy Sheila in Bunheads.

According to the Vulture interview, Sherman-Palladino was a committed dancer until she started getting more gigs as a TV writer than a dancer. I am hoping there will be more dancing in future Bunheads episodes. —Wendy Perron