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Tunes flow with the river

Broadway star and singer Susan Egan is first featured act in series of boat-based concerts

Susan Egan will be playing to captive audience members soon, but they won't mind; they'll be cruising.

The 32-year-old actress is the opening performer for the 'River of Stars,' a cabaret-concert series on the Willamette River excursion ship the Portland Spirit.

Egan was the original Belle in Broadway's 'Beauty and the Beast,' playing the role for 750 performances, and she also starred on Broadway as Sally Bowles in 'Cabaret.' Her Warner Bros. television sitcom, 'Nikki,' ran from 2000 to 2002, and she has sung with a number of symphony orchestras and at two Hollywood Bowl concerts.

Three other singers will follow Egan in the series. Michael Maguire, who won a Tony for 'Les Miserables,' will perform Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 ; Jodi Benson (Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid') March 28 and March 29; and Debbie Shapiro Gravitte ('Jerome Robbins Broadway') April 25 and April 26. Each performer will do three shows.

Egan says her cabaret act is a mixture of standard love songs, show tunes and traditional songs.

She mixes standards such as 'Someone to Watch Over Me' with songs from a new composer and Broadway classics such as 'Maybe This Time' from 'Cabaret.' She says her choice of material is intended to illustrate musically the experience of working in New York as an 'outsider' from the West Coast.

Egan graduated from the Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana, Calif., and UCLA and won a Carol Burnett Award in musical theater. She worked with Burnett in 1998 in the Los Angeles production of 'Putting It Together,' a musical review by Stephen Sondheim.

'She's such a role model,' Egan says of Burnett. 'A lot of big stars tend to be divas, but she loves it when supporting actors are successful and funny. She realizes it makes the show better.'

Encouraged to go to New York by Tommy Tune when both were in the touring production of 'Bye Bye Birdie,' Egan almost didn't bother to audition for 'Beauty and the Beast.'

'I had my sights set on 'Carousel,' 'Grease' and 'My Fair Lady,' but I went because it was a job, and I clicked. I'd never seen the film, and I wasn't even sure it was a good idea to turn a cartoon into a musical,' she says. 'Maybe not seeing the film was a benefit. Maybe I had a different technique.'

Egan's favorite show remains 'Cabaret' because it is so complex.

'I was so used to playing good girls, girls who were right and heroic, and I had such freedom to play a drug addict who wasn't terribly bright and making bad choices.'

'Beauty' is in its eighth year; 'Cabaret' has been running for five. However, Egan's still heartbroken about 'Triumph of Love,' a little musical she did with Betty Buckley and F. Murray Abraham, which closed after two months in fall 1997.

'It's the sweetest little valentine; regional theaters do it all the time. But we opened against 'The Lion King,' and that was that,' she says.

After years of eight shows a week on Broadway, Egan is delighted that her current TV work (she's been a guest on shows such as 'NYPD Blue,' 'Drew Carey,' 'Party of Five' and 'All My Children') gives her weekends off.

But not for long. A self-confessed workaholic, Egan had her agent find her concerts with symphonies and cabaret shows, and that's what brings her to Portland.

'My family's actually from here, but I haven't been back for 10 to 15 years,' she says.