Susan Egan attacks screen, stage with spirited performances
By Samantha Critchell
Published: Dec. 2, 1999
NEW YORK -- Actress Susan Egan looks like a hip chick, right down to her jet-black bob hairdo and her slick leather jacket. But there really is a 1920s flapper living inside this modern woman. She just needs a little old-fashioned romance to make her swoon.
Egan gets plenty of that in "Man of the Century." The film, which screened during this year's South by Southwest Film Festival, won the Audience Feature Award at the 1999 Slamdance Film Festival. It is being released Friday by Fine Line Features.
Although "Man of the Century" is set in present-day New York, Egan's suitor Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier) behaves like someone living in the Roaring '20s. (His adventures are filmed in black and white.) He sweeps Egan off her feet by taking her dancing, sending her telegrams and popping into her office with flowers.
He woos her with phrases such as, "I went into this thing with my eyes open, and now I'm seeing nothing but stars."
And that's just fine by Egan.
"I think all of us . . . as much as we want to be treated as equals . . . we also want to be treated like princesses," said the 29-year-old actress, whose character runs a SoHo art gallery in the film.
She noted that swing dancing, supper clubs and other elements of 1920s culture are back in style.
"Men in black ties and tails are gorgeous," she said.
Egan recently took over the role of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret," a revival of the Kander and Ebb musical set in pre-World War II Berlin. She is re-creating the character with her own interpretation.
"The only reason to go to a play is that it is happening live for the first time in front of you right then and there. You have to believe that it's new -- not a retread," she said.
One reviewer described Egan as "a slip of an actress whose powerhouse voice scorches listeners with a terrifying version of the title song. Her rendition will change the way you hear it from now on. Her Sally is defiantly, almost strenuously hedonistic."
Egan is no stranger to the stage. She originated the role of Belle in Broadway's "Beauty and the Beast" and starred in "Triumph of Love," a musical version of an 18th-century French comedy by Pierre Marivaux. Earlier this year, she appeared with Carol Burnett in "Putting It Together" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The musical recently opened on Broadway, with Burnett in the starring role. The show is a collection of Stephen Sondheim songs.
Burnett has been a longtime supporter of the UCLA Musical Theater Workshop. She established the Carol Burnett Musical Theater Award 20 years ago. Egan is one of her UCLA winners.
Film roles for a musical theater actress are mostly limited to independent productions and animated movies, said Egan, who was the voice of Megara, the vamping vixen, in the Disney animated film "Hercules."
The situation could change if Hollywood would broaden its interpretation of a musical to productions such as "Rent," which would work as well on film as it does on the stage, she said.
"Musicals in their heyday took moviemaking to a new place. They were very innovative. Now the musicals are a throwback," Egan said.
"If we could . . . take filmmaking to a new place and incorporate music into it, then they'll be accepted again. But it has got a be a far-out story line, you know, where people are accepting that you live on an asteroid and sing."
Egan and business partner Mike Rafael are working with pop singer Billy Joel to develop a musical that will appeal to young audiences.
Joel's songs are a natural fit for the stage because they tell stories, she said, breaking into a short rendition of his "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant."
To quote Johnny Twennies: "Ya gotta like the kid's moxie."