Carmen Cusack was one of the true standouts of the 2015-2016 Broadway season, earning a Theatre World Award and Tony and Drama Desk nominations for her remarkably heartfelt portrayal of magazine editor Alice Murphy in the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical Bright Star. Cusack, who made her Broadway debut in that Tony-nominated production, will reprise her role when the musical plays Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre October 11–November 19 and San Francisco’s Curran November 28–December 17.
Cusack’s lengthy résumé includes the U.K. productions of Les Misérables, The Secret Garden, Personals, and The Phantom of the Opera, Off-Broadway's Carrie, the world premiere of First Wives Club, Nellie Forbush in Lincoln Center Theater's first national tour of South Pacific, a much-ballyhooed turn as Dot in the Chicago Shakespeare production of Sunday in the Park with George, and the green-faced, misunderstood Elphaba in various productions of Wicked around the world. She also received much acclaim for her solo show If You Knew My Story, which features several songs from Bright Star, including numbers that were ultimately cut.
The actor, who boasts an extraordinarily wide vocal range, will bring her many talents to Playbill Travel’s Broadway on the High Seas: Iceland in 2018, joining Drama Desk nominee Sierra Boggess, Tony nominee Jarrod Spector, Tony nominee Rob McClure, four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn, and two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole. Sirius XM radio host and Playbill columnist Seth Rudetsky returns as Chatterbox host and music director. For booking and inquiries visit PlaybillTravel.com.
We recently asked Cusack to pen a list of some of her most memorable nights in the theatre; her responses follow.
Can-Can at Casa Mañana
The first one that comes to mind is my very first experience onstage as a professional. I was ensemble and “young hooker” in Can-Can the musical at a theater in Ft. Worth, Texas, called Casa Mañana. I remember sitting at a table after asking the leading man if he'd like to “buy me a drink.” He then sings to me the song “It's All Right with Me.” I remember shaking and thinking, “This is hard to just sit here with nothing to do but listen.” It was a valuable lesson. At that time Casa Mañana was a theater in the round, and they would cast young people for the whole season, so I did three shows there that summer.
On the Town at Casa Mañana
One of the other shows that year was On the Town—again, I was ensemble. One night there was an annoying cricket in our dressing room. He was chirping and jumping all over the place so I stomped on him. I immediately felt bad for killing the little critter. The gal sitting next to me gasped and said, “Oh no, it's bad luck to kill a cricket.” Not five minutes later, I'm late for an entrance and take a different aisle to get to the stage, and before the lights came up, I stepped off the ramp, but there was no lip to catch me as I had taken the wrong ramp! Lights came up, and I have landed in the lap of a man who sat in the audience! As I tried to pull myself up onto the stage, legs flinging, none of the other girls could sing, for [they were] laughing at me. A shocker for me and the poor man that got a lap full. I never killed a cricket again!
See Carmen Cusack Perform at Feinstein’s/54 Below
The Phantom of the Opera in Manchester, England
Another vivid memory onstage was my first night playing Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera. This was a big-time gig for me! I was in Manchester, England, understudying the lead and finally putting to use all those long days of rehearsal. The nerves nearly took over me that night. I was worried my voice would close up at the end of this long cadenza strategically placed at the end of my first song, “Think of Me,” ending on a high D (a really high note!). It would be disastrous not executed properly! You must stay relaxed and open to hit really high notes and have them sound nice. Nerves make this a near-impossible task. The note came, and it was crystal clear. HA! I had a blast the rest of the night.
Les Misérables at London's Palace Theatre
The next year I was to understudy Fantine in Les Miserables on the West End stage in London at the Palace Theatre. Midway through the show, before everything kicks off with the Revolution, the soldiers ask all women and children to flee the barricades before the final fight. Of course, I was directed to be the last woman to leave and run the length of the stage, all crying and wailing and flapping arms. One night, I tripped on something and landed heavy, strong, and head first in the middle of the stage. An audible gasp from the audience. I opened my eyes and could see nothing. My burlap skirt had gone inside out and over my head. I then crawled the rest of the length of the stage, still with skirt over head, bloomers out, and all else on display trying to make crying sounds over my laughter. Probably not the best time for a funny moment in that show.
Not long after that, I was playing the role of Fantine and had agreed to sing at a charity benefit where I was asked to perform the Forbidden Broadway version of “I Dreamed a Dream.” I started learning the lyrics to that version and then found myself one night whilst singing the real version to a West End paying audience, the funny Forbidden version was going on in my head. I then froze and started singing in Swahili or something for the rest of the song! Again, an audible gasp from the audience. I suffered stage fright for a good two months following that incident. But it didn't keep me down. I love real live theater so much—when everyone is experiencing something together! The magic and the mishaps. It's so reconnecting and wonderful. I'm so lucky to do what I do.
Bright Star on Broadway
This, of course, brings me to my Broadway debut in 2016 with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's musical Bright Star. That is certainly my most recent, most memorable night on the stage for the obvious reasons. It was a three-year process of creativity that I witnessed and was a part of all the way through to Broadway. It was a moment I'll never forget. The music starts, lights come up, I turn to the audience and tell them a story. What else you wanna know!
Senior Editor Andrew Gans is also the author of the monthly Their Favorite Things column.
You can join Cusack on Playbill’s Broadway on the High Seas July 2018 cruise to Iceland, also accompanied by Judy Kuhn, Christine Ebersole, Rob McClure, Jarrod Spector, and Sierra Boggess. Visit PlaybillTravel.com for booking and information.
And cabins are available for Broadway on the Danube River with Michael Feinstein for November 3–13, 2017, also featuring Rachel Bay Jones, Julia Murney,Christopher Fitzgerald, Marc Kudisch, Christopher Sieber, Brandon Uranowitz, and Seth Rudetsky, as well as other exciting talent to be announced.