LA Daily News   8/01
Long Beach Press Telegram  8/01
 
Broadway bent
 
Seal Beach native Susan Egan may be a sitcom sidekick, but her heart is in the musical theater, where she's been wowing audiences.
By Evan Henerson
 
Susan Egan will sing the role of Julie in the Hollywood Bowl's live production of "Show Boat."

In 1999, the woman who aspires to be the "Meg Ryan of musical theater" got grungy and had a blast.

I loved playing  Sally Bowles," says actress/singer Susan Egan, her eyes alight with the memory of a yearlong stint in Broadway's "Cabaret."  "I loved being ugly and wrong and a drug addict and not smart and making bad choices.  It's just meatier for an actress."

That may be, but most of the people who want to put Egan to work seem to want her to be pretty, correct, not drug-addicted, smart, making very good choices and winning the prince at the end.

Egan credits the production's director, Sam endes, for taking a chance on a less-recognizable name to replace Jennifer Jason Leigh in the role of hard-living Sally in Studio 54's "Cabaret," and for hiring an actress whose image was more Disney than Dachau.

She dropped out of school at UCLA to star in the national tour of "Bye Bye Birdie" with Tommy Tune and has played sweet young heroines in practically every civic light opera in the Southland.  Immediately before "Cabaret," she more than held her own opposite Carol Burnett in the Stephen Sondheim revue "Putting It Together" at the Mark Taper Forum.

But Egan, who will sing the role of Julie in the Hollywood Bowl's live production of "Show Boat" with Douglas Sills, Alice Ripley and Dick Van Patten on Saturday, and give a cabaret performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center Oct. 11-12, is most closely linked to the character of Belle, whom she played in both the Broadway and Los Angeles companies of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."  That may help you get future employment on the Mouse circuit, but it's not necessarily the star name that will sell tickets on Broadway or get you booked in major motion pictures.  "I joke that I'm the only nonfamous Sally Bowles," says Egan, a Seal Beach native.  "I was not guaranteed t sel tickets, not like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natasha Richardson or Gina Gershon.  I'm the only nonfamous one to do it.

"The rule in New York is that after the first three months, half of the people in the audience speak English.  There are a lot of Italians, Japanese and tourists, and if they can see Brooke Shields, they're going to see Brooke Shields and that's great.  God bless Brooke for doing it because she's keeping 150 people employed."

For a while, the much-traveled Egan is home.  At summer's end, she'll head to London to finish her debut CD, "So Far."  Then she returns for the second season of the WB show "Nikki" where she plays Mary, a Vegas showgirl who gets to appear in some of the more arresting costumes you're likely to see (you can check out the fan page on www.susanegan.net for a sampling).  Egan said she took the "Nikki" gig as much for job security and money as to boost her profile for future stage work.

"I've gone as far as I can go on Broadway without being a name," says the 31-year-old actress.  "So, yes, it gives me kind of a break because it's an easier schedule than doing eight shows a week, but very definitely, part of the decision was so I can go back for these theater producers I've worked with in New York.  I want to be able to sell tickets."

Seated on the terrace of her home with her doting pooch Willa the Wonder Dog at her feet, Egan is open, friendly and very much at home in Hollywood.  There is, she points out, a community of New York Broadway musical stars who came to LA to give small- or big-screen life a spin.  Kristin Chenoweth (of "Kristin") is a good friend, as are Jan Krakowski ("Ally McBeal") and Malcolm Gets.  Megan Mullally sublet Egan's New York apartment when she appeared opposite matthew Broderick in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."  This was in 1995, a few years before Mullally would hit it big as Karen Walker on "Will & Grace."

"There's a whole campus of us out here," Egan says.  "Now that Kristin has got her own show, when she goes back and she does a Broadway play, there's going to be a much wider audience that recognizes her.  She'll bring them to the theater for the first time, creating future theatergoers."

"Nikki" has meant more time for films and TV movies (Egan's done three this year, including the upcoming TV film "Gotta Kick It Up" for Disney) and sacrificing at least one plumb of a Broadway role (in the new musical "Sweet Smell of Success" opposite John Lithgow.)

She'll get back to Broadway, but in what role, Egan isn't entirely sure.

"It probably hasn't been written yet," she says.  "I'm finally growing mature enough to play these leading women instead of these ingenues.  I've been lucky that I've grown from Belle, which was pretty straightforward, to progressively more complicated characters."