NEW YORK -- It doesn't take long for an interview with Sutton Foster and Joel Grey to evolve into something more like a vaudeville routine.
Sitting in Grey's dressing room at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, the pair are a little punch drunk from exhaustion as they team up for the first time in Anything Goes, a revival of the Cole Porter romp that demands they dance and sing their hearts out.
"I'm very slow. I'm a slow learner," says Grey, whose turn as the master of ceremonies in Cabaret in 1966 earned him a Tony Award. "She's the fastest learner in history. She was generally patient."
Foster, who won her own Tony in Thoroughly Modern Millie, shoots him a look that is mock icy.
"You were," he tells her.
"I was very patient!" Foster explodes sarcastically.
"That's what I said," says Grey, defensively.
"You said generally!" accuses Foster.
The two then drop the bickering act and laugh.
"We do great. We're a good team," says Grey, who turns 79 today. "If you have to fake it, you do. But we don't have to fake it, which is a gift."
"That's true," says Foster, 36.
In the Roundabout Theatre Company production of Anything Goes led by director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall, Foster and Grey find themselves on a ship crossing the Atlantic amid a crazy mix of characters.
Foster plays nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, who gets to belt out some of Porter's best tunes: "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and "Anything Goes." Grey plays a low-grade, charming public enemy named Moonface Martin.
He and Foster share one cock-eyed duet called "Friendship," about the increasingly crazy lengths each would go for the other. "If you're ever down a well, ring my bell," one lyric goes. "If you ever lose your teeth, and you're out to dine; borrow mine."
"It's a thrill and an honor to be able to sing these songs and to celebrate the score," says Foster. "It's also intimidating and scary but yet I really feel like we've made them our own."
Foster says she studiously avoided firing up her computer or DVD player to hear or see any other actress play her part. "I made a conscious decision not to," she says. "I was so intimidated by the shoes of Ethel Merman and Patti LuPone that I didn't want to add to that. So I decided to treat as if it was a brand new production."
She did, however, check out the previous work of someone in the cast -- namely Grey himself. "I just watched Cabaret last night. I had seen it before, but I wanted to rewatch it because now that I know him and now that we're friends and colleagues, I was like, 'I should probably rewatch this,'" she says. "And he's very good."
For his part, Grey was already a fan of Foster, whose credits include Shrek: The Musical, Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Young Frankenstein. He says he caught her in a production of Anyone Can Whistle last April at New York Center. "That's when I got totally hooked on you," he tells his co-star.
Foster and Grey share more than just their Tonys. Both were child stars. Both started out replacing other actors on Broadway (He in Come Blow Your Horn and Half a Sixpence, and she in Les Miserables and Grease.) Both also perform solo concerts.
Grey's career took off after Cabaret, which also led to an Academy Award when he reprised his role on film. He went on to star as George M. Cohan in George M!, the title role in Goodtime Charley, Amos Hart in the revival of Chicago, and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Wicked.
"At first I was nervous to work with you, but that went away really quickly. It went away in the first couple of days," Foster tells him. "And Joel's so amazing because he made me immediately feel comfortable and at ease."
Grey pooh-poohs her and thinks that audiences will be coming to see Foster show her skills -- and make sure he's still kicking. "I think people are going to be curious to see whether or not I'm hobbling around with a cane or something," says Grey. "We dispel that fairly quickly."
Indeed, Grey is quite able-bodied -- in fact, he's also managed to direct a revival of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart that opens on Broadway this month even while juggling his duties for Anything Goes.
That prompts Foster to kiddingly ask Grey: "Am I pulling my weight? Am I holding my own? Am I doing my job?"
"And then some," he says, reassuringly. "I worked with a lot of leading ladies: Bebe Neuwirth, Anne Rankin, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli. They're all phenomenal talents. She's different. And phenomenal. I've never seen anybody like my partner here. She's very unique."
Foster's face breaks into a wide smile.
"I adore Joel," she says. "It has been an honor and a joy and a dream to be on stage with him and to work with him. I'd be honored to work with him a million times again."