I was first introduced to the talent's of Carmen Cusack during her Tony-nominated turn in Steve Martin & Edie Brickell's Tony-nominated Broadway musical Bright Star. I was blown away by Carmen's performance and that voice! I could listen to Carmen sing all night if I had the chance to and now with the release of her debut CD (on Broadway Records), If You Knew My Story: Live at Feinstein's/54 Below, I can!
Come find out the tales behind Carmen's story in our interview below!
Carmen will be returning to Feinstein's/54 Below for four performances only March 8 at 9:30pm, and March 14, 15, 16 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!
1. Last year you released your debut CD as part of the Live at Feinstein's/54 Below series. As if the pressure of making your concert debut at Feinstein's/54 Below wasn't enough, you decided to record the show and make into a live album. What made you decide to make your concert debut also your CD debut? I was asked to perform four shows for Feinstein's/54 Below and along with that request they asked if they could record it as a possible live album venture. I agreed to it because I felt I had nothing to lose. They took the best bits of the show and mixed it nicely and gave me full control over the content. I love LIVE recordings. They are raw and beautifully imperfect which is far more interesting to me. I'm a bit of a perfectionist to a fault and this allowed me to let go a little and embrace the organic nature of the evening.
2. Were you nervous knowing the show was being recorded? If so, how did you keep yourself calm? I was nervous the first five minutes of the first night. I then noticed that everyone was having fun so I decided to. I didn't really even think about the recording of it. I was too much in the moment with the audience to be bothered about that.
3. For fans who have seen you in Bright Star and your many other theatrical productions, what do you think will delight them about this album and what will surprise them? Well, I sang some songs I hadn't sang in a while! Roles I had played in the past, like "Christine" in PHANTOM and "Fantine" in LES MIZ and of course "Elphaba"...showing a bit more strings to my vocal bow. I also gave some background regarding the writing process I witnessed working with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell as well as some stories that never made the Broadway version of BRIGHT STAR. There were some hauntingly beautiful songs that had to be cut from BIGHT STAR that I wanted to showcase as well. These anecdotes did seem to intrigue (if not shock) some folks. Ha!
4. The album cover is a picture of you as a young girl. When you look at that picture now, what goes through your mind about that time in your life? How much space I had. How big everything felt. Catching lizards and picking blackberries with Grandpa and running with my dog. Good times.
5. The title of your debut album is If You Knew My Story. We'll know your story from listening to this album, so what is something we don't know about your story? Ha! Well there's still a lot more story to tell. I plan on telling more on my next set of shows at Feinstein's/54 below this March and of course when I release my original album. Nothing but stories in those songs!
6. Another song you perform on the album is "Strong is the Heart." What has been the hardest thing your heart has had to endure that you need it's strength? Allowing someone in. To learn how to love and be loved.
7. You also perform "For Good" from Wicked with Katie Rose Clarke, which you two starred together in on the First National Tour. What was the best part about reuniting with her? What is one funny story you can tell us that happened between the two of you during your run together? She is a Texas girl and most of my schooling was in Texas so we got each other straight off the bat. She is so soulful and real. Love her. We got caught in a whiteout in Cleveland taking her puppy to emergency vet. We couldn't drive any further so we had to walk another mile in waist deep snow holding on to each other and the puppy for dear life. Sadly, the puppy didn't make it. His name was Roadie. : ( (Sorry this story wasn't funny).
8. You also duet with Edie Brickell on "Sun Is Gonna Shine" from Bright Star, for which you received a Tony nomination for. What was the best part about performing with Edie? In your bio, you say playing "Alice Murphy" was the role of your dreams. Why was this role held in such high esteem for you as compared to other roles you've played? I love Edie. Her smile and energy is so infectious and calming and then she opens her mouth and this voice comes out that is like a warm breeze. She is the best! I knew as soon as I read the script that I was to play "Alice Murphy." It was that simple. Also creating the role as a debut was another big selling point.
9. One of your patter pieces on the album is titled "Anything could happen and probably will." What is something that you hope will still happen for you? The next thing I'd like to happen as soon as possible is to get my original album out. Maybe next time we can talk about that!
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I want to be one percent every day more thankful for the love in my life.
An actress and singer whose career spans the world, Carmen Cusack made her Tony-nominated Broadway debut as "Alice Murphy" in Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s BRIGHT STAR. In addition, she has graced the stage in some of theatre’s most renowned roles, including PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’s "Christine," LES MISERABLES’ "Fantine," WICKED’s "Elphaba," SOUTH PACIFIC’s "Nellie Forbush," and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’s "Dot/Marie." In January 2017, Carmen starred in the world premiere of Karen Siff Exhorn’s DO THIS, a one-woman play at Gulfshore Playhouse. Possessing a versatile vocal range, she has also been featured in numerous concerts, recordings and cabarets. Her Live at Feinstein's/54 Below album entitled "If You Knew My Story" is now available, and she will return to the cabaret stage at Feinstein’s/54 Below for a series of four shows in March 2017.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Carmen’s childhood included stops throughout the Southeastern and Central United States. At a young age, she was enticed into singing by a sweet tooth. She had sung for youth chapel many times; however, her church’s pastor asked her to sing "Amazing Grace" for the adult chapel – with the promise that she could have the first choice from a box of chocolates as her reward. Intrigued by the deal, Carmen decided that chocolate was enough motivation to overcome her shyness. She approached the podium for her song, and when the pastor asked if she would like the pianist to accompany her, the five-year-old Carmen replied "No thanks… she might mess up!" Even as a child, she was already a self-declared perfectionist. Her singing debut was a success and a sign of things to come.
A passion for singing and acting continued to be fostered over the years and led her to the University of North Texas, where she studied in the Performing Arts. Among the genres in which she trained were opera, ballet, jazz and tap, and her early creative influences included Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Sandi Patty, Aretha Franklin, and Meryl Streep. After completing her education, Carmen accepted a job on the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship that changed the course of her future. Jean Ann Ryan Productions offered her a contract, and she sang her way around the world. Eventually, she landed in Manchester, United Kingdom, where she attained her breakthrough opportunity – the chance to appear in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA as "Christine Daae."
Shortly thereafter, another milestone in Carmen’s career arrived in the form of her West End debut in London. Starring as "Fantine" in LES MISERABLES, she earned her first bow in Europe’s most prestigious theatre district. A diverse career continued to flourish in Europe, with opportunities ranging from Original West End Casts (THE SECRET GARDEN and PERSONALS) to innovative workshops to the futuristic, interactive SAUCY JACK & THE SPACE VIXENS. One part which Carmen particularly enjoyed playing was OVER THE RAINBOW’s "Eva Cassidy," as she had always admired Ms. Cassidy’s music.
In late 2006, a path paved in emerald green led Carmen back to the U.S., as she returned to her native country to take on one of musical theatre’s most demanding roles – WICKED’s "Elphaba." She initially joined the Chicago company as the stand-by for the role, and a year later, the show’s producers asked her to lead the U.S. National Tour as the company’s principal "Elphaba." As the "Wicked Witch of the West," Carmen paired with Katie Rose Clarke as "Glinda" to become one of the blockbuster’s beloved duos, and the Green Girl became a cherished credit in her career.
Following her run as "Elphaba," Carmen once again demonstrated her artistic versatility by stepping into the role of "Ensign Nellie Forbush" to launch the Lincoln Center’s North American Tour of SOUTH PACIFIC. Besides providing her the chance to embody one of theatre’s timeless roles, SOUTH PACIFIC also presented the opportunity to work with Bartlett Sher, one of the industry’s most esteemed directors. Critical acclaim followed her around the country, and the show grew to become her one of her favorite productions.
Two challenging roles in strong regional theatres arrived next, with the Chicago Shakespeare Company providing the opportunity to play "Dot" and "Marie" in its production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater offering the role of "Mother" in RAGTIME. Both presented unique opportunities for Carmen to add her touch to these respected parts.
The opportunity to create the role of her dreams arrived in BRIGHT STAR, and Carmen was reminded of how stimulating the creative process can be. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s folk musical offered the perfect blend of music genre, intense acting, and extensive collaboration. Originating the role of "Alice Murphy" during the show’s development in the Powerhouse Theater workshop, she subsequently brought "Alice" to life in the show’s runs at the Old Globe in San Diego and Kennedy Center in Washington DC prior to the Broadway opening. She earned critical acclaim and amassed an array of award nominations – including the Tony Awards, Outer Critics Circle Awards, Drama Desk Awards, Drama League Awards, and Theatre World Awards.
Most recently, Carmen appeared in New York City Center’s gala concert of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and FOR THE RECORD – SCORSESE: AMERICAN CRIME REQUIEM in Los Angeles.