Interview: Stage and Screen Star Susan Egan Talks ENCORE on Disney+

By: Nov. 18, 2019
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Interview: Stage and Screen Star Susan Egan Talks ENCORE on Disney+

Susan Egan was featured in the second episode of the new Disney+ series Encore! She was a mentor to a group of former castmates of a high school musical production of Beauty and the Beast, who were tasked with re-creating their original performance in a high school reunion like no other.

Susan Egan has made powerful impressions in theatre, film, television and music. She headlined on Broadway as Thoroughly Modern Millie, won critical acclaim as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, starred in Triumph of Love and State Fair, and received Tony Award and Drama Desk nominations for Best Actress as the original Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

She took the time to talk to us about her experience working on the Disney+ series. Read the full interview below!

How did you get involved in Encore! on Disney+?

This year is the 25th anniversary of Disney on Broadway, and we've been doing a bunch of really amazing events centering around that. I was in New York doing an event, and when Tom Schumacher got a phone call from Encore! saying, "Hey, we're doing an episode with Beauty and the Beast, do you have any ideas of somebody who might be able to pop by and give some pointers?" and he looked at me like, "Well, you want to go?" I was like, "Are you kidding? Totally!"

It's crazy to think that Disney has only been on Broadway for 25 years!

It does, yeah. It seems there is a foregone conclusion that Disney should be a Broadway producer now, because there's such a track record of ginormous hits for Disney on Broadway. So when we opened Beauty and the Beast, that was definitely not the preconceived notion. Disney was the new kid, and people definitely resented the presence of Disney on Broadway for the first couple of years. We were the ugly stepchild kind of show, but it's so obvious that Disney should be producing live theater. So, in some ways, it feels like Disney's always been there. I was there when they were making their first footsteps in Broadway theater, and honestly it's opened the door for all these other new Hollywood producers to take their source material and reinvent it on a live stage.

It must feel great to know that the legacy you started with Beauty and the Beast 25 years ago is still going so strong.

Definitely. Last Monday we were in New York, and they had cast members from all the shows from the 25 years, and we were all doing different numbers in a benefit concert raising money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. It was an amazing night, and I couldn't believe the gathering of talent. We all said to each other backstage that when we were doing our individual shows, we had no idea what a family it would become. Encore! is just the next step of that, because Disney has always been at the forefront of innovation and bringing their animated features to Broadway. With Encore!, they're taking the theater magic to communities around the country, because theater is something that can be experienced by everybody, both onstage and offstage.

What makes the show that much more special is how it shows what theater can do for a person off the stage, too!

That's absolutely true. Theater is a safe place for every kind of person, and that's always been true, but it's never been highlighted or appreciated in the sense that this show is able to show. What I found to be truly magical is that the cast of Beauty and the Beast is coming back expecting to talk about how this show changed them back in the day, not realizing how it was going to change them again, in this moment. They are getting back up on stage, dusting off their skills, showing the people in their life today what they did back in high school, and showing how amazing they are now. Their kids are getting to see it. There's a lot of layers.

The show highlights how important theater is and how it affects everyone who's involved in it.

Yeah, especially today when the arts are not always fully funded or funded at all. I'm hoping that this show says that theater is something that saved kids, has kept kids in school, and has given them an outlet to discover who they are. Whether it is band, visual art, dance, or theater, the arts are what help us think outside the box and it builds community. I mean, gosh, I've gone on speaking tours talking about the importance of arts education, but I think a lot of times, you have to experience it, and this show is going to give people at home that experience of exactly what you were saying - the importance of theater.

What was the initial reaction like for you when you met the group you'd be mentoring?

I was gobsmacked by their reaction. I didn't even know if they would know who I was. I just thought, "Wow." But I think what I enjoy the most is having an opportunity to go in and talk with them about it. I've had the most amazing experience, because I got to ask Alan Menken what he was thinking when he wrote "Home." I was able to ask Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter and book writer, what Belle's background was, and all of these great questions, and now I get to pay that forward and share it with these casts. It is exciting to get to pass the stories on, because I'm hoping they will speak to future casts and keep those stories alive. The development of the show had reason to it, and getting to explain why it has developed in a certain direction informs performances. But really, I'm there to be a cheerleader and to help them see their own strength that already exists and just jump in with both feet.

It must have been pretty special to see how the show can impact people now, 25 years after you performed it on Broadway.

This is not a film that is airing 25 years later; theater stays alive because productions are happening in real time right now. It was interesting - I was talking to the dramaturg at the Disney Theatrical Company, and they recently re-edited the script of Beauty and the Beast that goes out to schools, focusing on the word "girl" and how it's used in this new era of Me Too and girl power. They're still keeping it fresh and keeping it current, so it speaks to today's audiences. Every production has an opportunity to reinvent the show for an audience that's going to see it today.

Exactly. It's a living thing. Every production is unique, and that allows audiences to have new experiences every time.

It thrills me to no end to see something new happening. I mean, I love that Cogsworth was a woman in the production in Encore!. I just thought, "Yes! Of course. Absolutely, because it takes a woman to keep you guys all organized and on time, and isn't that my life right now as a mom?" So I loved that.

So what did you take from the experience of getting to work [on Encore!]?

It's a little bit more of what I've been saying, of getting to witness and pass the torch, because it's not mine anymore. It stopped being mine 23 years ago when I stopped doing the show. And it's so beautiful to see somebody else's interpretation and to cheer them on with it to say, "Yes, go further in that direction." That original cast recording was never meant to be something to be copied. It was meant to be just something to inspire you to find your own Belle, and your own Lumiere, and your own Mrs. Potts and to run with it.

Did you ever foresee these opportunities to tell your Beauty and the Beast story in a new way 25 years later?

I know! There was no social media or streaming services when Beauty and the Beast opened on Broadway. There was no way I could possibly fathom there would be future light of this show in this way. I have to applaud Disney for releasing these shows in versions that are so producible for people, particularly in an era where there isn't a lot of funding for the arts. With the Beauty and the Beast junior version that Disney puts out, and with the junior versions of all of their properties, they're making things that are easily producible for that drama teacher who has been given no budget. Disney is making it workable, because the important thing is giving these kids an opportunity to experience live theatre.

Yeah, and arts start at the local levels of schools and regional productions, and the fact that they are enabling it to happen is so important because it's what fosters the next generation of artists.

Yeah, future casting directors, future Broadway stars, future event planners, future audiences - they come from children's and local theatre. It starts at the smallest level, and it's exciting that, because of their programming on Disney Channel and now Disney+, kids want to sing and dance!

It makes me excited about what's to come for musicals and theater in the future.

Yes, and technology can help us do it. There was a time when everybody said technology was going to be the death of theater and actually, it's not. You can't capture that live experience, but you can promote it through technology. You can make it accessible through technology.

I am excited to see what comes in the next 25 years for Disney and Disney on Broadway because, if the last 25 years were any indication, it's going to be incredible.

You and me both. I can't wait to see.

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