Watson's first professional role was Velma in the original West End production of West Side Story in 1958. She created the role of Luisa in The Fantasticks and then played Kim on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie, beginning in 1960. Among many other roles in musicals, she was nominated for a Tony Award for the role of Jenny in A Joyful Noise (1966). She starred in the title role of the Broadway revival of No, No Nanette in 1971. Watson also appeared in several television series and specials.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Watson was one of five children of a geologist/geophysicist and a dance instructor. From an early age her life was filled with the music of Gilbert and Sullivan and Rodgers and Hammerstein. As a teenager she performed in summer stock before being accepted at the Juilliard School in Manhattan. Her studies there were interrupted when she accepted a role as Velma and understudy for Maria in the original West End production of West Side Story in 1958.
Stopping in Paris after the show's run, Watson met her future sister-in-law, who was dating Tom Jones and urged Watson to contact him when she arrived in New York City. Jones and partner Harvey Schmidt cast her in the lead role of Louisa, "The Girl", in their one-act musical The Fantasticks, which ran for one week in 1959, at Barnard College's Minor Latham Playhouse, while the creative team tried to raise financing for an off-Broadway production. While biding her time, Watson appeared in a revue entitled Follies of 1910. Gower Champion, who was in the process of casting Bye Bye Birdie, noticed Watson in Follies and offered her a role. She played the role of Kim throughout the entire Broadway run (April 1960 - October 1961). She finally returned to The Fantasticks when it was televised by the Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1964.
Following a national tour of Carnival, Watson returned to New York to play opposite Robert Preston in Ben Franklin in Paris (1964), a Lincoln Center revival of Carousel (1965) as Carrie with John Raitt and Jerry Orbach, a New York City Center staging of Where's Charley?, and Jenny in the short-lived musical A Joyful Noise (1966) (again with Raitt), for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.
Watson reunited with Jones and Schmidt for their musical Celebration, which opened on Broadway in January 1969 at the Ambassador Theatre and played in Beggar on Horseback (1970) in repertory at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center before taking on the title role in the Broadway revival of No, No Nanette (1971) with Ruby Keeler. She appeared at the William Inge Theatre Festival in Independence, Kansas, in a tribute to Jones and Schmidt on April 25, 2009.
Watson's television credits include several episodes of the Bell Telephone Hour (1964–1966) and guest appearances on the television series Newhart (1982), St. Elsewhere (1984), Wings (1993), and the soap opera General Hospital (1987). She is one of dozens of Broadway musical performers in the documentary Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age, scheduled for broadcast on PBS in 2010.
She was back on Broadway for the first time in many years in 2011. Watson performed the featured role of Emily Whitman in the revival of Follies, which ran from August 2011 to January 2012 at the Marquis Theatre. She sang "Rain On The Roof" with Don Correia. Watson also performed in the run at the Kennedy Center in May 2011 to June 2011.
- Buckley, Michael. Interview, broadwaybeat.com, March 7, 2000, accessed September 29, 2009
- Suskin, Steven. "On the Record: Susan Watson Sings Jones & Schmidt", playbill.com, March 31, 2008
- Farber, Donald and Viagas, Robert. The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks (2004). Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-87910-313-2, pp. 92-93
- Bye Bye Birdie listing, ibdb.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- Internet Movie Database listing for Susan Watson, imdb.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- Ben Franklin in Paris listing, ibdb.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- Carousel listing. broadwayworld.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- A Joyful Noise listing ibdb.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- Celebration listing, ibdb.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- Beggar on Horseback listing, ibdb.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- No, No Nannette listing ibdb.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- Bacalza, Dan. "Rita Gardner, Susan Watson Set for William Inge Theatre Festival Salute to Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt", theatermania.com, March 20, 2009
- Musical Theatre Guild official site musicaltheatreguild.com, accessed September 29, 2009
- Gans, Andrew."The Right Girls: Kennedy Center Follies, With Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Elaine Paige, Begins Broadway Previews" Playbill.com, August 7, 2011
- Susan Watson at the Internet Movie Database
- Susan Watson at the Internet Broadway Database
- playbill.com feature, March 31, 2008