Susan Egan’s Princess Diaries at the Wheeler Opera House
If You Go …
What: An Evening of Broadway with Susan Egan
When: Sunday, March 6, 8 p.m.
Where: Wheeler Opera House
How much: $55
Tickets: Wheeler box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
hat’s it like to be a Disney princess? Susan Egan, who originated the role of Belle on Broadway in “Beauty and the Beast” and played Meg in the animated film “Hercules,” can tell you all about it.
She will on Sunday, when she performs at the Wheeler Opera House in a show that blends her irreverent humor with songs old and new performed in the gorgeous voice that’s made the world listen up.
“It’s really the inside story,” she said in a recent phone interview from home in California. “Doesn’t it sound wonderful to be a Disney princess? Let me share with you the reality of being a Disney princess, which sometimes is marvelous and sometimes The Beast tears your wig off by accident and you send 1,200 children into therapy.”
On Broadway, Egan played Belle in a Tony-nominated turn, Salley Bowles in “Cabaret” and the title character in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” But 12 years ago she left Broadway to record albums, perform concerts, teach and start a family in California (she’s recently added Girl Scout troop leader to her resume).
Egan stepped away from the apex of musical theater, she said, at just the right time.
“My type was the ingénue, so you had better move to New York at 21 and get all those roles in — and I did,” she said. “I left Broadway at 35, tap-dancing as Millie, a character who is the same age as Belle. So I felt like it was somebody else’s turn. … I had learned as much as I was going to learn from those roles.”
She compared performing a lead on Broadway to being an athlete — performing eight shows a week allows you to constantly perfect a performance in a daily grind that’s unlike anything else in show business, she said.
“It’s really honing a craft,” she said. “It’s like polishing a stone. You figure you cut that diamond and then you might make minute adjustments and perfect it for two, three years at a time. But you go home on the subway thinking, ‘Oh, I could have done this better’ or ‘I had a rotten night, but I get another chance tomorrow.’”
As she developed her concerts, she spent a lot of time going to other singers’ shows, figuring out what worked. She played often with symphonies and at Disney events and in a more intimate cabaret style that she’s bringing to Aspen. She’ll perform Sunday with pianist Christopher McGovern.
Studying concert vocalists, she saw the power of performers who could connect personally with an audience.
“If you go see Eartha Kitt, you want to hear about being Catwoman, you don’t want to hear her sing ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ — everybody can sing,” she said. “Ironically, the more personal the performer is to their own story, the more universal the impact.”
So, Egan opens up a bit in the show with some commentary and storytelling — life as a Disney princess, for example, doesn’t impress her daughters.
“In fact, they prefer ‘The Little Mermaid,’” she said with a laugh.
The wit and humor that’s become a trademark of her concerts grew in part from hanging out with stand-up comedians (her husband, Robert Hartmann, owns the Improv comedy clubs and manages comics).
“A lot of my personal life is hanging out with those crazy folks, and that’s helped me develop my point of view of bringing storytelling to the audience in a funny, fast-paced way,” she said.
During her run in “Beauty and the Beast,” Egan befriended castmate Paige Price, who local audiences know as the artistic director of Theatre Aspen. They’ve remained close in the years since. Price, who has seldom performed in Aspen, will join Egan for at least one song Sunday. Price recently wrapped her run as the lead in the Curious Theatre Company’s “Sex With Strangers” at the Denver Center for Performing Arts.
“There was no way I was going to let her get away without doing something on-stage,” Egan said. “It’s so interesting to me that so many people see her in the producer/artistic director/administrative role — and maybe don’t realize what she’s got in the tank as far as performance talent. So I’m getting her on stage and we’re doing a tune and that’s that.”
Egan said she may go back to musical theater at some point, but she’s certainly kept things interesting since leaving the Great White Way. Along with the tours and seven solo albums, she’s landed roles on film and television, and these days is voicing Rose Quartz on Cartoon Network’s popular animated series “Steven Universe.” She wrote a blog for a while and is now contemplating writing fiction. For now, the personal storytelling of her stage show and interaction with the audience is an ideal creative outlet.
“It’s interesting where life takes you,” she said. “I did not get into this to be Susan. I did it to be someone else for two hours and get paid for it. And then it turned out I like bringing elements of what’s going on in my life into my show.”
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