Susan Egan, who brought the character Belle to life when the musical ”Beauty and the Beast” came to the Broadway stage in 1994, visited CSUF last week to work with musical theatre students and cast members who will be staging the production this October.
Through three class sessions, students sang two-minute segments of songs and received feedback from the actress, who discussed not only the choice of songs but pitch, vocal intensity, better enunciation and matching emotion to the words. Egan even threw in a lesson about the importance of proper breathing when she caught one singer holding his voice.
Egan asked one young scholar, who chose to sing “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid,” to speak the words in order to better understand the mood they are meant to convey, despite the fun, jaunty Jamaican tune.
“There’s a really dark message,” she said about the lines that stress how the “seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake,” but to remember that the lobster Sebastian is arguing that Ariel’s wish to live on land is a mistake: “… fish on the land ain’t happy/They sad ‘cause they are in their bowl … One day when the boss get hungry/Guess who’s gon’ be on the plate?”
“You’re making an argument. Make it!” she insisted as the student tried again. “Don’t play it up. It’s a colossal mistake to make this cartoonish — Sebastian is serious.
“Comedy is not light. It comes from high stakes.”
Egan was asked how students should handle rejection. “It’s a matter of attitude,” she shared. “Think of it as ‘you have so many rejections before you are hired,’ so every rejection puts you one step closer.
“It’s always an opportunity to perform,” she encouraged. “Don’t think you are rejected, you just weren’t hired.”
And ask questions, she added. “Sometimes you will find you were OK, just not right for that role.
“The only person who can cast rejection — is you.”
After the class, students were enthusiastic in their praise of the comments and time Egan spent with them.
“Working with Susan was such a privilege!” said Avi Spitzer-Tilchin.
“I’m not going to lie, it took a lot of courage to get up there and sing in front of her and receive her criticism,” Spitzer-Tilchin continued. “Later, it I felt really good that I volunteered, and I learned so much from her!”
“I really value what she had to say and her graciousness in sharing with us,” said Brianna Clark, a senior theatre-musical theatre major.
“Absolutely amazing!” added classmate Corinn Szostkiewicz. “It’s so cool to get a new take on our singing.”
Gabrielle Adner also felt inspired by Egan’s direction. “It has been the highlight of my day.”
“The opportunity to work with Susan, who is a master of the art, and for her to give her thoughts on your work … that’s what school and education is all about,” said junior Dillon Klena.
The Cal State Fullerton production of “Disney Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway Musical” opens Oct. 11 and runs through Oct. 26. Tickets and more information are available online.