Little town /It’s a quiet village /Ev’ry day/ Like the one before /Little town /Full of little people /Waking up to say/ Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour!
Can you believe it has been more than 24 years since actress Susan Egan stepped onto the stage at the Palace Theatre and belted out those words that gave life not only to Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast but transformed the Broadway musical, New York theater and the Walt Disney Company’s footprint on the Great White Way?
“Beauty and the Beast was this strange thing we didn’t know it was going to work out this way,” observes Egan. “We knew the children would be seeing live theater for the first time but what we didn’t know was that it was also the first time for their parents as well,” she notes. “Beauty and the Beast opened and it brought families to Broadway for the first time in a long time.”
After 800 performances on Broadway which earned her Tony and Drama Desk nominations for the portrayal of Belle, there were numerous requests for her to reprise the role, requests Egan repeatedly turned down. Until now. The actress says she is getting ready to step into the shoes, ballgown and wig for a special engagement this summer. “I’m not 24 anymore but I can still fit the costume,” laughs Egan.
The actress will return to her career-defining character for 5-Star Theatricals in California for a very limited engagement July 20th through July 29th at the 1,800-seat Kavi Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks.
Egan admits that reaction has been very surprising especially on social media. She thought people would liken her to the high school cheerleader trying to fit back into her uniform for her 25-year class reunion. Rather the feedback has been beyond her wildest expectations. “People are really happy and supportive,” she says with many promising to be in the theater for her performances. “It is still in me even 20 years later,” says Egan. She adds that she believes she can sing Belle’s songs better today than she did for the recording of the original Broadway cast album for Beauty and the Beast.
“I am really excited about it,” Egan gushes. “I never thought I would do this. If you asked me ten years ago, I probably would have said no. I said no twice to this production,” adding that one morning she woke up and said if not now, when. “Cathy Rigby was 60, years ago playing Peter Pan. If I am going to do this, this is probably the last possible moment.”
She says the time is right for her to return to the iconic part. The married mother of an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old says her family didn’t know her during her original run as Belle adding they are not aware or were able to witness this huge chapter of her life.
“My goal is to have a really great time and to make sure that the cast has a really great time,” says the actress. The cast of Beauty and the Beast will also feature Jason Chacon as “The Beast,” Adam Hollick as “Gaston,” Justin Charles Cowden as “Lefou,” David Gilchrist as “Maurice,” Marc Bacon Ginsburg as “Lumiere,” Tracy Ray Reynolds as “Mrs. Potts,” and Gregory North as “Cogworth.”
Despite walking away from Belle more than two decades ago, the importance of the role does not get lost on Egan. “How lucky was I to get to be a part of watching that transition on Broadway happening before my eyes.”
Egan who has played many characters on Broadway, television and in the movies including providing the voice of Meg in Disney’s 1997 animated movie Hercules, says she knows she will probably be forever remembered for Belle on Broadway. She admits that when she stepped away from Belle she chose to move to the opposite acting extreme by taking on the not-so-Disney part of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She said she felt the need to shed her Disney image by diving head first into the part.
But regardless of the array of characters she has played Egan has embraced Belle as the part that will likely resonate with audiences and fans forever. She says she is okay with that citing the spirit and grace of legendary actress Julie Andrews. Egan recalls when she was a teenager watching an interview with Andrews a reporter posed a question to her about being remembered for her many roles. According to Egan, Andrews responded by saying “I am the luckiest person in the world that there is music that people want to hear me sing over, over and over and I will gladly sing it as long as they will listen. And that is truly how I feel today.”
As for what is next for Egan, she has a number of projects in the pipeline but don’t look for this short-lived run of Beauty and the Beast to amount to anything more than a limited engagement. Might there be another go at it somewhere down the line, Egan chuckles, “I think the next production of Beauty and the Beast, I will be Mrs. Potts.”
Beauty and the Beast ranks as the tenth longest-running Broadway show of all time according to Playbill.