Friday, February 9, 2001
Orange County Edition
Section: Metro
Page: B-6
Between Gigs There's the Job
Lisa Richard Is an Executive by Day, a Singer by Night, but 'I Don't Mix My Worlds'


Most people who lead double lives eventually pay a price for it. Lisa Richard says her double life pays off in double satisfaction.

The Laguna Beach resident balances a high-powered business career as a vice president for Toshiba with a life of artistic pleasure made possible by a versatile, high-powered singing voice.

Richard has acted and sung in musicals since her arrival in Orange County in 1990. She has branched out as a cabaret singer with periodic gigs at the Cinegrill in Hollywood, and last year released a CD on a specialty label that sells nationally to cabaret aficionados.

Now the singer with the double life has organized a musical doubleheader. She will team Saturday with her friend Susan Egan, the Broadway star from Seal Beach, in a fund-raiser for No Square Theatre, a community theater in Laguna Beach.

Egan will sing a solo and a couple of duets with Richard to return a favor. Richard sat in as her guest singer and duet partner in a series of Southern California cabaret performances Egan headlined about a year ago, including a stand at Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Richard "easily could be a professional, if that's what she chose to be, but she balances both because she loves her other life, too," Egan said in a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles.

Egan made her first mark on Broadway originating the ingenue role of Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" and showed she could play darker, edgier roles during a yearlong Broadway stretch as Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes' revival of "Cabaret." She is back in Southern California playing her first part as a TV series regular in "Nikki." Still coiffed in her Bowles cut--a dyed, jet-black, neoflapper hairdo--Egan plays a jaded Las Vegas showgirl, a sardonic foil to sweet-natured star Nikki Cox in the new Sunday night series on the WB network.

Egan and Richard met when a mutual friend, Laguna Beach singer Karen Rymar, urged Egan to check out Richard's act at Cinegrill. Egan, 30, was struck by Richard's voice during the performance, and afterward by her outgoing, boisterously humorous nature.

Richard, 40, says she has been a ham since the fifth grade, when a community college in her hometown of Herkimer, N.Y., drafted her to play a little Von Trapp in its production of "The Sound of Music."

She was reared on a dairy farm but by age 13 had established some diva credentials by refusing to do her share of the chores pitching hay and mucking out the stalls.

"I didn't want to smell like cows. I got out of chores by yelling and screaming, sheer will and defiance," the upbeat, enthusiastic Richard said in a recent interview in her office at the Toshiba complex in Irvine.

There was no similar struggle over her career path. Her parents wanted Richard to go to college rather than jump headlong into show biz, and she fully agreed.

"I never had that 'I have to do this or die' thing many performers go through, where they have to live in a hovel in New York and try to make it," Richard said. She majored in chemistry at Colgate University in upstate New York, then earned a master's in business administration from Rutgers in New Jersey.

At Toshiba, she is vice president for strategic business planning in the division that makes and sells copiers, fax machines and network printers. The job involves finding ways to make the Internet and new computer software work to the company's advantage. On the Cover

Last June, a business trade publication, Information Week, put Richard on its cover. But the article made no mention of her other life as a singer.

"I don't mix my worlds," she said. "I don't ever want Toshiba questioning my putting everything I can into this job. I also was a little fearful [entertainment] people would say, 'She can't possibly be serious as a singer if she has a day job.' Both are equally valuable to me. I don't want to give up one or the other."

Richard said she told nobody at Toshiba when she was recruited to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" before a Mighty Ducks game at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. Co-workers were at the game and presented her the Mighty Ducks souvenir doll that rests on a window ledge in her office. Attached is a heart-shaped note that says, "Busted." Instead of decorating her office with photos from musicals she has done--including turns at the Laguna Playhouse in "Working" and "Inside Out"--she has a large and very idiosyncratic collection of Diet Coke cans from around the world.

Richard says she reaped one music career advantage from her business career: She was able to bring her usual backing trio with her when she made her weeklong New York City cabaret debut last October because a Toshiba dealer she had met offered them the use of his Manhattan apartment.

She says she likes to give her shows a personal, open touch, so life on the executive track does come up during her performances.

"I explain my worst fears, my traumas growing up as an ugly girl. I make fun of myself at this [business] job. I've been single all along, and I talk about that, too. It can be really hard to have a serious drive in a career, and here I am, trying to have two careers--and have a family as well."

Richard is broadening her reach with her CD, "Born to Entertain," released last year on the Los Angeles label LML Music. She wanted to show the full range of her interests, from traditional Broadway belting and torchy dramatic ballads to a rock-influenced number from "Chess" and a take on Petula Clark's 1960s pop hit "Downtown."

"She's got an incredible vocal range, a really strong instrument," says Lee Lessack, who owns LML and is himself an established touring cabaret performer. Lessack says that a cabaret album on an independent label like his is considered a solid success if it sells more than 5,000 copies. Sales of 1,000 to 2,000 are the norm.

He thinks Richard's executive job at Toshiba is a plus rather than a hindrance. "She's in the best position, because you have to be able to afford to be a cabaret artist. It's not a moneymaking proposition most of the time. I think it also makes you a better entertainer if you're living out in the real world. You have more to draw upon than when you're just working on music. Your life experience and point of view is a little different."

Richard is one of the founding officers of No Square Theatre, which was launched in 1997 to fill the amateur theater void left in Laguna Beach after the Laguna Playhouse, long one of the leading community theaters in the region, became a professional company using mainly union actors.

Richard, who never studied acting or singing, learned her art in community productions on the East Coast. When she came to Orange County, doing community theater was her way of finding a circle of friends.

"It's so enriching to be able to have [theater] in your life without being a professional at it," she said. Which is why she volunteered to do the benefit show.

Egan didn't hesitate to pitch in when Richard asked her to join her. She, too, got her early experience in community theater.

After years of the eight-shows-a-week demands of performing on Broadway or in touring musicals, Egan says she is enjoying the comparatively leisurely life of a TV actress. In her down time from "Nikki" she often performs in symphonic pops concerts around the country, joining two other Broadway singers for performances built around familiar show tunes.

She is working on her first album, a retrospective built around songs she has sung in various shows. She says the London Symphony Orchestra provides the accompaniment on the disc, which she expects to be out this summer on Jay Records, a British label. 'We're Pros'

Richard and Egan are confident they can mesh nicely without much rehearsal.

"Our voices blend really well together, and our senses of humor just blend," Egan said. "Lisa is outrageous and I'm deadpan. We have a great time, and [what they say on stage] is just an extension of our relationship."

Richard snapped her fingers rapidly three times when asked whether she and Egan would get enough practice time before the show.

"It's not a big deal," she said. "We're pros."



Lisa Richard, with special guest Susan Egan, Saturday, 8 p.m., Artist's Theater, Laguna Beach High School, 625 Park Ave., Laguna Beach. $18. (949) 515-6254.