LA Times  9-27-96
An Alma Matter
Before Susan Egan Leaves for Broadway (Again), She'll Perform in Benefit for Her Old School

Halfway through her junior year at UCLA, Susan Egan landed a featured role opposite Tommy Tune in a hugely successful national touring production of Bye Bye Birdie directed by Gene Saks.

“That’s how I got my Equity card,” said Egan, whose yearlong tour in the revival included a stop at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in 1992, and who now has become a Broadway star.

The Long Beach native—who grew up in Seal Beach and graduated from the Orange County High School of the Arts in Los Alamitos—won a 1994 Tony Award nomination for best actress in a musical as Belle, a role she originated, in Beauty and the Beast.  Earlier this week, on the phone from West Hollywood, where she is about to vacate her one-bedroom apartment for New York to start rehearsing her next Broadway show, the 26-year-old performer sounded both charmed and charming.

“I can't believe I didn’t finish college, because it’s not like me,” she said.  “I think, ‘Maybe someday.’  But if I wanted to go back, I wouldn’t major in anthropology again.  My interests have shifted.”

Sometimes questions about her schooling can get under her skin and make her sound defensive.

“I’m a smart gal,” she said.  “I read all the time.  My favorite channel is the Discovery [Channel].  I feel OK with my education.  I have this friend I went to high school with who came to New York and saw me in Beauty and the Beast.  She said, ‘Oh, it’s cute.  When are you going back to college?’  And I’m thinking, ‘I’m above the title on Broadway!  What do you think is missing in my life?’  I don’t feel undereducated.  I think life is an education.”

Still, before she leaves for New York, Egan will be going back to her high school—if not for further training, at least to put on a show today and Saturday night at the Margaret A. Webb Performing Arts Center on the campus.  How come?

“Because it’s fun, and because I don’t know that I appreciated the school as much as I should have when I was there.  I don’t think I knew what a great thing I had.”

Proceeds from the show will go to her alma mater.

“Now that I’ve been out in the world, I see that [the school] put me five years ahead of anybody else my age.  It was really like having a college experience in high school.  All the girls I was up against as Belle were 30, and I was 22.”

If an occasional note of self-satisfaction creeps into the breezy timbre of Egan’s voice, it’s understandable.  In 1992, immediately following her Bye Bye Birdie tour, she originated the ingenue role of Margy in the stage adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical State Fair.  She played Margy in the pre-Broadway tryout, first in Winston-Salem, N.C., and then in Long Beach.  By the time the show went to New York, Egan already was starring opposite Terrence Mann in Beauty and the Beast.  Earlier this year, when Andrea McArdle broke her foot while playing Margy in State Fair on Broadway, Egan was asked to step in on a day’s notice and finished out the run for a month, until the show closed at the end of June.

“Susan is an inspiration to our students in many ways,” said Ralph Opacic, the high school’s executive director, who will perform at the benefit with his former choral student.  “Of course, she is incredibly talented and driven, which has allowed her to be successful in an extremely competitive industry, but she is thoughtful and generous as well,” he said.

Egan and Opacic will do a 10-minute musical, Duet for Shy People, written by a friend of hers, Michael Kosarin, the musical director for Beauty and the Beast.

“Californians don’t know about 10-minute musicals, but it’s a big thing in New York,” Egan said.  “There’s a big workshop where a lot of young composers go.  Their final is to write a full-length, 10-minute musical.”  In Duet for Shy People, the characters “meet, fall in love and have kids—all in 10 minutes,” she said.

Egan also will do songs from Bye Bye Birdie, including a scene “with some of the kids from the school,” she said.  “They’re so much better than we were when I was there.”  And she’ll sing solos from State Fair, Beauty and the Beast, The Sound of Music and South Pacific as well as show tunes by Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Tom Lehrer and Stephen Schwartz.

Conspicuous by their absence are songs by the Broadway-West End king, Andrew Lloyd Webber. How come?

“I don’t like him,” Egan said.

Might saying so in print harm her chances with him?

“I’ve already turned him down.  Sunset Boulevard.  The production in Toronto.  The role of Betty.  I didn’t like it.  Talk about a boring ingenue, for God’s sake.”


When she came to Los Angeles with Beauty—which broke box-office records with a long smash-hit run at the Shubert Theatre in Century City—Egan was nominated for a 1995 Ovation Award.

“Sondheim writes great ingenues,” she added.  “Cinderella in Into the Woods?  She’s very funny.  Anne in A Little Night Music? Hysterical. I love her.”

Egan’s next Broadway show will be a musicalization of the Marivaux play The Triumph of Love, adapted by Jeffrey Stock and Susan Birkenhead, who wrote Jelly’s Last Jam.  It will be directed by Michael Mayer, who directed the national tour of Angels in America, and produced by Margo Lion.  The Shuberts and Rocco Landesman also have money in it.  Triumph begins in Baltimore at the Center Stage, where it is scheduled to run from Thanksgiving to Christmas; it will resume after the New Year at the Yale Repertory in New Haven, Conn.  It will go to New York either in the spring or fall of 1997, Egan says, depending on the theater that’s chosen.  Egan will play the heroine, a princess of Sparta who has fallen in love from a distance with a boy who has been trained by his philosopher parents not to trust affairs of the heart.

“She can't present herself as a young woman, so she dresses as a young man—it’s very Shakespearean, very Rosalind, which I like in her—and she ends up having to seduce [the boy’s] aunt, as a man, and the uncle, as a woman.”

Between now and then, Egan will continue recording the soundtrack of Hercules, a Disney animated musical scheduled to open next summer, with Danny DeVito, James Woods and Peter Donovan.  She said she is looking to record folk-rock songs, for which she is writing the lyrics.

“I play chords on guitar—but very remedially,” she said.  “So I’m working with some songwriters.”

And she’s getting into producing.  She and a friend have put together a group called Favored Nations in New York for working Broadway actors in long-running shows.

“They need to flex their muscles,” Egan said, “and play other things than whatever they’re in.”

Favored Nations does shows together for free.  But next year Egan hopes to be taking a show on the road that she will co-produce as a commercial venture.

“I can’t tell you the name because we’re still getting the rights.  It’s a revival, but it will have a big star.  A lot bigger star than me.  I won’t be in it.  I’m interested in making money as a producer so we can do downtown work.  We’ve optioned two plays in New York maybe for next season off-Broadway.  We want to be the Steppenwolf of musical theater, with really high-quality actors who can do other things in their off-time when they’re not making movies or doing Broadway.  That’s the beauty of the ’90s; you can do both.  Look at Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker.”

Or Susan Egan.

“I don’t think I’m anything special,” she demurred.  “I just took action on my gut feeling. I think a lot of people don’t take action.  A lot of people don’t move to New York.  A lot of people don’t go to the audition.  A lot of people don’t do a lot of things.  All I did was show up.”


Jan Herman