There’s something comforting about Carmen Cusack speaking in similes—her hint of twang providing extra warmth as she discusses being back home in Los Angeles with the launch of the Bright Star national tour.
“It’s like putting on my favorite comfy jeans,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to go do what I love and come home—and get in my own bed.”
The denim took some breaking in, however: Cusack admits to having “anxiety dreams” before the first day of rehearsal for the tour, which runs through November 19 at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre before traveling to San Francisco's Curran.
Though she had originated the role of Alice Murphy in two pre-Broadway engagements, subsequently earning a Tony nomination for the New York premiere, returning the role a year-and-a-half later brought new challenges. “I put pressure on myself—unnecessarily—because I knew it needed to be different this time. But I realized it had to be different, because I’m different.”
Becoming reacquainted with Alice gave Cusack pause, but the months away allowed her to explore new colors of the character, particular in her later years as a successful literary magazine editor.
“I certainly can tap into the success of her story a bit more,” Cusack says. “She went to the top of her dreams. Going to Broadway—then to be invited to the Tonys—I really tap into what that feels like now to fulfill lifetime goals.”
Her outlook on her personal achievements is not the only element shaking up the sense of familiarity. Accompanying Cusack on the West Coast are a handful fellow Bright Star alums, “like a lovely family reunion,” she says (another endearing simile). Among the returning faces is Patrick Cummings in the role of Alice’s star-crossed lover Jimmy Ray Dobbs.
Cummings understudied the role on Broadway, going on for Paul Alexander Nolan once. “Bless his heart; he was like a deer in the headlights,” Cusack recalls with a laugh, adding, “but even then, I was impressed. I thought, ‘This guy knows his stuff.’ He has a very different approach to the role, and it’s brought out new and interesting things for me.’”
In the Steve Martin and Edie Brickell musical’s opening number, Alice sings, “I’ll die trying not to live in the past.” For Cusack, Bright Star is not her past just yet. “I’ve been with this show for four years, and I wasn’t ready to give it up to someone else just yet,” she says of her decision to continue her journey with the show. “It was such a luxury to take a role and realize that people were writing around what you were able to bring to it.”
After the San Francisco engagement, Cusack will continue on to Salt Lake City, Utah, as part of her contract with CTG: “I’m sure by then, I’ll be ready to move on to other things. But I’m still enjoying it.” She hints at more new roles on the horizon.
Until then, Cusack reminds herself of advice she gives to others: “Just stay present in the moment, and what will come will come. And it feels good. Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s working out the way it should.”