Review: Susan Egan delights fans with Broadway hits

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Susan Egan has a Nicole Kidman cat's smile and a Cleopatra haircut. She has a dog named Willa Cather and a new husband.

And she has a sweet, pure singing voice that seems effortless despite its impressively wide range, and a career on Broadway that's the stuff dreams of stardom are made of.

Egan brought her cabaret show to the Naples Philharmonic's Daniels Pavilion on Friday and Saturday night for four shows featuring her magnificent voice singing the show tunes she's built a career on.

She's accompanied by pianist Christopher McGovern, a talented and credentialed musician in his own right whose improvisations and flourishes on the keys provide a rich, full backing for Egan's luscious voice.

"Yay, we're in Naples!" Egan enthuses after her first two numbers. The two have been on a yearlong tour that has had them stuck in the cold Midwest for months.

It's that kind of spontaneity and genuineness that make an evening with Egan more than just a parade of pretty songs. Egan was mentored by Tommy Tune, she relates in one of her many tales between songs, while they were both touring with a production of "Bye Bye Birdie."

Besides urging the native Californian to relocate to New York, "where they would know what to do" with her, Tune taught her, Egan says, how to stay "normal and grounded, down-to-earth and happy" in a business where those basic life skills can easily slip away.

She clearly took his advice to heart — spending an evening with Egan is like being in her living room. She's casual and unpretentious, wearing slim-fitting black pants and a sequined tank top, talking not just directly to the audience, but to individual audience members.

But what's she's known for — and what her audience is there for — is her unusually pretty voice. Egan brings her vocal skill and her personality to her set list, with plenty of humorous, playful numbers. From her ambitious opening with Streisand's definitive "Don't Rain on My Parade," Egan gives each song her own phrasings and vocal treatment, and her bubbly, appealing demeanor seeps through into each one.

It's in "Times Like This," from the musical "Lucky Stiff," that the audience hears about her dog Willa Cather as Egan sings the tongue-in-cheek tribute to canines. She shares her frustrating dating history in the humorous "It's a Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind." Egan knows how to insert her personal flair into songs, and make them sound as though they were written for and about her.

But she also knows when to slow things down and take material more seriously, even though, as she deadpans to her audience, "It's not my nature." Her "Someone to Watch Over Me" is achingly sincere; "My Funny Valentine" has beautiful dark edges; and "I Dreamed a Dream," from "Les Miserables," will make tears prick your eyelids.

The petite, slim vocalist made her first splash on the Great White Way as the original Belle in the Broadway premiere of "Beauty and the Beast."

After garnering Tony and Drama Desk nominations for the role, she moved on to the infamous Sally Bowles of "Cabaret," playing the role longer than any other actress in the show's Broadway history. And she recently played Millie in the Broadway launching of "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

Egan has also ventured into film and television. She was the voice of Meg in Disney's "Hercules," and appeared in the Jennifer Garner film "13 Going on 30." On the small screen she's had guest roles on "NYPD Blue," "The Drew Carey Show," "Party of Five," and even a few soaps.

But it's her love of singing and musicals that is most evident in her performance and her résumé. Egan has taken time off from her career to serve as interim artistic director of the Orange County High School of the Arts, and during her current tour, she and McGovern often take their show into schools as part of an arts outreach effort.

And in the course of her cabaret show, she literally sings the praises of today's new generation of Broadway composers, presenting a handful of newer or lesser known tunes by them along with her selection of classic standards.

Even her curtain call is unpretentious, with Egan starting offstage at show's end, but stopping before she's fully off to come back and sing one more song, "When You Wish Upon a Star" — "originally sung by a cricket," says the comically self-deprecating diva — and she serenades her audience one more time.

© 2006 Naples Daily News and NDN Productions. Published in Naples, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.