Susan Egan was living every actor's dream. She had played the lead in three different Broadway shows. Her television career seemed primed for take-off in prime time. Susan had even voiced memorable characters in acclaimed animation features like Disney's "Hercules" and Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away."
"The only problem was - at that point in my career -- my own personal dream had changed. I was a 34 year-old woman who was still playing the 21 year-old ingénue. And after 2 ½ years of playing Belle in the stage version of Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' and then another 2 years as Sally Bowles in 'Cabaret,' I was feeling kind of burned out," Egan recalled earlier this week during a phone interview. "I mean, when you're in a long running show like that and doing 8 shows a week, that's not really acting anymore. That's athleticism. You need a lot of stamina to do something like that."
So after spending 7 months as Sutton Foster's replacement in "Thoroughly Modern Millie," Susan had enough. Starting in June of 2004, she turned her back on Broadway, moved to California, got married, had two beautiful little girls and then basically reinvented herself as a concert performer. A "hired gun," if you will, who has now sung with dozens of symphonies around the world over the past 4 years.
Kevin Earley (L) and Susan Egan (R) in the Broadwayproduction of "Thoroughly Modern Millie
"And I am so, so glad that I decided to do this. Now I feel like my life actually has some balance. I mean, I still get to go out and perform. In fact, this coming weekend I'll be doing this music scholarship concert for the Department of Music at Long Beach City College where I'll get to sing with that school's choir, string quartet and full orchestra. Which should be a lot of fun," Egan enthused. "But at the same time, by deliberately only scheduling two or three concert performances a month, I still get to be a Mom. Which means that I'm then on hand for 85% of my daughters' bed-times."
This isn't to say that Susan doesn't kind of sort of miss the busier, crazier times in her career. Like when she was appearing on Broadway as Belle in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" but also actively pursuing the opportunity to voice Meg in "Hercules."
"Alan Menken initially blocked me from going after that part. He said that the female lead in 'Hercules' was supposed to be this cynical smart-ass, sounding nothing at all like sweet, innocent Belle," Egan revealed. "But what Alan didn't seem to understand is that - whenever I was playing Belle - I was acting. Whereas Meg ... Well, that's how I was in in real life."
Gary Beach (L) and Susan Egan in the original Broadway productionof Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
But eventually Susan wore Alan down and she was finally allowed to audition for the female lead in Disney's "Hercules." Which was kind of a daunting experience. Given that -- when she arrived for this audition - Egan suddenly found herself in a room full of Broadway's top female performers (among them Donna Murphy and Audra McDonald) who also vying for the opportunity to voice Meg.
"Now I don't know if you know anything about how performers go about auditioning for voice work in animated features. But basically the creative team from Disney put their heads down on the table, deliberately keeping their eyes off of you as you audition," Susan explained. "You see, the idea is that they just want to concentrate on your voice. They don't want how you look or what you're doing in front of the mike to influence their final decision."
Well, as Susan began reading Meg's audition scene, one by one those heads began popping up off the table. As "Hercules"'s creative team suddenly began realizing that they'd finally found just the right woman to voice Hercules' smart-mouthed sweetheart.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"And if you watch 'Hercules' today ... Do you know that scene where Hercules and Meg, where my character says 'So did they give you a name along with all those rippling pectorals?' and 'My friends call me Meg. At least they would if I had any friends' ?," Egan said. "Well, that's taken directly from my initial voice audition for Meg. I never, ever re-recorded those lines of dialogue. They went straight into the movie and were then animated as is. Which was kind of a challenge for Disney's audio engineers, given that they then had to figure out to remove of all the New York City traffic noise which wound up in the background of that recording."
Which isn't to say that everything that Susan recorded for "Hercules" wound up in the finished animated feature.
"Meg originally had this big soaring Alan Menken ballad, 'I Can't Believe My Heart.' But it was the character's animator Ken Duncan who eventually pointed out that Meg would never ever sing a song like that. That - even though she was in love with Hercules - Meg was just too tough, too hardened by life to be able to sing a ballad like that," Egan continued. "So Alan reached back to the girl group songs that he wrote for 'Little Shop of Horrors' and eventually came up with 'I Won't Say I'm in Love.' Which was a lot of fun to perform. That said, I've never felt as white as I did the day that I recorded this song with LaChanze, Cheryl (Freeman) and Lillias (White)."
Now what's kind of interesting is that - these days - as part of her symphony concert repertoire, Susan sometimes performs "I Can't Believe My Heart." Just to give "Hercules" fans a taste of what might have been.
"But I won't be doing that one as part of Sunday afternoon's fundraiser for the Department of Music at Long Beach City College. Given that Long Beach is my old hometown - I was born at Memorial Hospital back in 1970 - I wanted to do something different at this concert. Something really, really special," Egan said. "Which is why I'll be performing 'Defying Gravity' from 'Wicked.' I'll also be singing a special arrangement of 'The Prayer' which will feature a tenor soloist from the college choir as well as the full orchestra."
And to help celebrate her new status as part-time performer / full-time Mom, Susan also plans on performing a specialty piece entitled "Momsense."
"It's this great comic song that Anita Renfroe wrote to the tune of the William Tell Overture," Egan explained. "It basically chronicles everything that a Mother says to her children over the course of a day, from the moment that those kids get up in the morning 'til their Mom puts them to bed at night."
Doesn't this sound like a great take-in? Well, if you happen to be Southern California this Sunday and would like to attend LBCC's Music Scholarship Gala Concert (which is being held in that college's main auditorium starting at 2 p.m.) , general admission tickets are still available for $20.
If - on the other hand - you'd like to get up-close-and-personal with this gifted performer, the Department of Music at Long Beach City College is offering a limited number of VIP tickets. Which will grant event attendees access to a special champagne & dessert reception where they can then get their pictures taken with Ms. Egan.
Part-time symphony songstress / full-time Mom Susan Egan
For further information on Sunday's Music Scholarship Gala Concert with Susan Egan, please call 562-938-4411 or click on this link.
I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Egan on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship. She performed her song "Nina Doesn't Care." A song about how her daughter just wants her to be a mom and has no interest in her career as a performer. I told her that Nina and I have a lot in common.
The song "I Can't Believe My Heart" is also available on Egan's cd Coffee House. Nice song for a beautiful voice. Not exactly right for her character in Hercules though.