Prolific Broadway singer/actress Susan Egan will perform a benefit concert on March 1 at Arcadia High School. She talks about the concert and other career tidbits in our chat below.
Tell me about some of the wonderful things you are doing in the concert on March 1. You are singing with a children's chorus I've been told?
Yes. The program on March 1 includes songs with the Arcadia High School theatre company. I travel around the world and perform concerts – and what I love in addition to performing concerts, is arts outreach. But what I like most, is instead of just doing a master class and doing a concert I like putting the two together. What you would instruct students to do, in a class, and what you would do to rehearse a concert are very similar. From my experiences, I can often give students more insight, helping them understand the song better. For example, during the rehearsal for the March 1 concert, the Arcadia High School students and I had a long conversation about “Seasons of Love” from Rent and it enhanced their performance. The students and I are doing four songs together. They will also be singing two songs from their upcoming production, Curtains.
I saw you do Putting It Together with Carol Burnett a while back at the Taper and in the non-musical play Amy's View. That showed a great display of versatility on your part, as the two were like night and day. Did you enjoy doing these roles? Talk a little about that.
Yes, they are very different. Putting it Together is a musical revue of Stephen Sondheim -- with a lot for an actor to mine out of the material. I performed opposite Carol Burnett – who is one of my most important role models. I went to college on a Carol Burnett scholarship, so it was even more meaningful to work in a show with her.
Working with her was an experience beyond any and all of my expectations. And knowing her – I am always reminded to continue to be generous and gracious to the performers who are in the next generation. That is why I like working with students so much. It reminds me to think about where I’ve been and how I can help them in where they are going.
I did Amy’s View with Carol Lawrence. In college, I did a lot of plays -- Shakespeare, Chekov, Ibsen, and Shaw -- so this was a lot of fun to get to do. If you can sing, you often end up in musicals because they run for six years, but I love doing plays when I get a chance.
It’s been 20 years since the opening – so it’s time to reflect. The students that I am working with weren’t born when the show started – and the show and cast album, still speak to them.
It was my first first Broadway show, and it was the first Disney show. Looking back, it is easy to see that Disney ended up starting a new golden age of Broadway musicals. After Beauty and the Beast, they revitalized the New Amsterdam Theatre, brought The Lion King to Broadway – and ushered in an entirely new, younger, family audience.
A few years later – when I was in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Cabaret, there were huge teenage audiences for Broadway shows – much due to the success of the Disney Shows. And then Universal Pictures, Sony and Dreamworks followed – bringing properties they owned to Broadway.
People complain that musicals are all based on movies these days – but in all eras of Broadway, shows have been based on other materials. Earlier it was plays and novels, because the movies were such a young medium. And now there are lots of movies that are good to base musicals from.
Did you leave theatre behind to bring up your children? We have missed seeing you onstage.
For me, I transitioned. I now travel the world with symphony orchestras and 75% of the time I’m able to be a stay-at-home mom. I do tons of voice work, I’m making the same living, but now I only have to be away from the kids a week a month, and I get to live in California with my vegetable garden.
Who are your mentors? Anyone in particular influence your work more than anyone else? Your favorite actors?
Tommy Tune was an actual mentor. The people I look up to did not forget their roots: There is Carol Burnett, who I already talked about. Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman, for example, did a great amount of philanthropic work and helped a lot of people out by using their talents. And I admire that greatly.
What is your favorite role? (one that you've played)
Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She is a little more complicated. When you play the good girl, they inhibit interesting characteristics, but to play a character that is so flawed, there is a lot you can get out of it. So it was great to play someone so terribly misguided – and I learned a lot from Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.
What role do you long to play?
I love originating things, so the role I yearn to play has not been written yet. I also want to develop other parts of my creativity – especially to write, perhaps a novel. It’s a different way of being creative.
Who is your favorite composer? Why? Your favorite musical of all time? Why?
I love the new stuff. I think about Rent and how it was unfinished (Jonathan Larson died during previews). I would love to know what Howard Ashman would have done, had he lived longer. I love Robert Lopez, Jason Robert Brown, and Georgia Stitt. The difference now is that I am friends with all these people. I was around when Jason Robert Brown wrote The Bridges of Madison County and was working on the funding for it. I know how hard it is to get a show produced and what it takes to get that done. I can’t wait to see who comes next. I get new music sent to me all the time, since I use it my shows, so I get to track their progress.
Talk about your recordings. I've heard that The Secret of Happiness is quite special and very different for you. Is that true?
Coffee House was special for me. I was playing Millie, from Thoroughly Modern Millie, at night and working on the album during the day. I was listening to Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens. Secret of Happiness is what Belle would sing at age 42, after the happily-ever-after ending. Life is complicated and it isn’t what you’d expect it to be. The album has songs by Georgia Stitt and Jason Robert Brown that are brand new. One song is from Daddy Long Legs, which will hit Broadway in about a year. I loved doing it. This album is special – but they are all special. Every album is a child you think a lot about raising and nurturing.
Go see the amazing Belle, I mean, the incredible Susan Egan sing on Saturday, March 1. Tickets, available online by visiting www.Arcadiapaf.org are $29.50, $39.50, and $59.50; senior, student, and family 4-pack pricing are also available. The theatre is at 188 Campus Drive at North Santa Anita Avenue, Arcadia CA 91007. For more information please call 626-821-1781.