At long last, Carmen Cusack is right where she belongs: center stage on Broadway leading a powerful musical and singing the house down. The 2016 Tony nominee makes her debut as Alice Murphy (a hard-nosed literary editor with a past, who audiences also get to know as a vibrant small-town girl with big dreams) in the Tony-nominated gem of a musical Bright Star.
BroadwayBox caught up with the former Wicked and Phantom leading lady to learn about how Bright Star changed her, a secret London hot spot, and the Tony-nominated musical she almost made her debut in.
1. You’ve been with Bright Star since 2013. What’s the biggest way Alice and the show have changed you in that time?
I’ve become more forgiving of myself and therefore of others. I came from this very strict place in my head that I put on myself that I had to create perfection all the time. By watching the legend that is Steve Martin and the legend that is Edie Brickell (these incredibly famous and incredibly smart people) just continue to work at their craft and make mistakes, and then say, ‘Oh ok, that didn’t work. Let’s try this—and not beat ourselves up over it.’ That’s been my biggest lesson. I’ve allowed myself to become more comfortable in myself and not double guess myself all the time. It’s ok to make the wrong choices sometimes and not be perfect.
2. What’s the best advice you received about Broadway and making your debut?
Dee Hoty plays my mom in the cast, and it was New Year’s Eve in D.C., and she taught me how to bow. Bowing is the last thing you do for an audience and it’s important, and I’m a bit shy—at this point in time and how long I’ve done this career, I still find it embarrassing to, at the end of my day, have people clapping for me. I don’t like it to seem like, ‘Aren’t I great? Keep clapping.’ I’m embarrassed to take a bow. On New Year’s Eve, she said, ‘You have to just stop being embarrassed about it. You have to stand there and look them in the face. It’s not about aren’t I great, it’s about didn’t we have a good time? You have to look at it very differently.’
3. Broadway fans are obsessed with your voice. Whose voice are you obsessed with? What does Carmen lose herself in at home?
I LOVE Brandi Carlile—right now I’m listening to a lot of Brandi Carlile. I love Teddy Pendergrass. I tend to most of the time listen to male singers—It’s just relaxing. When I listen to female singers, my voice just automatically, subconsciously starts working; even if I’m not making a noise, I’m working out how they’re making that noise. Also, I’m listening to Eliot Sumner—Sting’s child—a lot right now. They’ve got a really cool ‘80s vibe going on right now. Check it out.
4. As a longtime Londoner, what’s a hot spot we should check out that's so not touristy?
It’s a place called Café M (I hope it's still called that). It’s a cool little luncheon place that we used to go to in-between shows. It was still inexpensive enough to have a good, proper meal, and it’s just this little dive near Neal Street in Covent Garden.
5. What role would we be most surprised was almost played on Broadway by Carmen Cusack?
My Broadway debut would have been the role of [Milo Davenport], the art collector who falls in love with Jerry, in An American in Paris. That was initially offered to me but I turned it down because it was going to conflict with The Old Globe performance of Bright Star; and even though this wasn’t ready and we didn’t have a Broadway venue for this yet, I took a big risk, and luckily it paid off.
See Carmen Cusack give the kind of debut performance most actors only dream about in ‘Bright Star’ at Broadway’s Cort Theatre.