Interview with Bright Star's Carmen Cusack
Carmen Cusack recently earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in Steve Martin & Edie Brickell's musical Bright Star at the Cort Theatre.
She has previously toured the U.S. with South Pacific and as Elphaba in Wicked, and her UK theatre credits include The Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden, Personals and Les Misérables, among others.
We caught up with the leading lady to discuss the vocal stylings of bluegrass and working with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell...
Thomas Hayden Millward: Prior to seeing ‘Bright Star,’ I had never heard a bluegrass musical score before on Broadway, or in any theatre for that matter. The score was truly beautiful. Do you feel it’s one of the musical’s biggest selling points?
Carmen Cusack: I think so because of its uniqueness. For me, I grew up with those kind of roots – those Folk/Americana/Southern-vibe roots. So this just feels like breathing to me to sing this kind of music. I also write in this way. My own music is similar to this. It’s probably one of the first roles that I have gotten to do where I haven’t really had to stylize my voice in a particular way. I can just sing as Carmen Cusack. For me, that’s a luxury.
THM: That leads me nicely onto my next question because I remember actually seeing you in my local theatre back home in Manchester in England playing Christine Daaé in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’…
CC: Wow! You know, I spent 14 years in England and I miss everyone. I miss the wit. I miss you guys. Anyway, I just wanted to say that.
THM: Well, let’s hope you can make a return before too long. But yes, I saw you as Christine, which is obviously a very different vocal style to ‘Bright Star.’ How many vocal styles do you have at your disposal, Carmen?
CC: Well, I started off as a 5-year old singing Gospel and learned how to do that sort of music. Then my mother realised I had a vocal ability, so she got me into training. So then I started doing opera, which landed me the gig as Christine in ‘The Phantom.’ Then I dabbled in Jazz. I actually took a year off in London because I wanted to do all the London venues – all those wonderful Jazz venues there. Ronnie Scott’s, Pizza Express… And I merged with the Leo Green Band. I just love doing all those different styles. I’m lucky in that way.
THM: In terms of this musical, how hands on were the writers - Steve Martin and Edie Brickell?
CC: 110%! They were there every single day from the first reading in Poughkeepsie in 2013 to… I saw them yesterday! Even down to the tech nights, where we’re sat in the theatre until midnight, they would also be sat out there. They were constantly there to nurture and evolve this show. That’s why I think we’re here and we’re doing well.
THM: Of course, congratulations to you on all your nominations so far, including your Tony nomination! Your category is so fiercely contended this year. Have you had a chance to see any of your fellow nominees in action?
CC: I have not. I have seen them at various events, but I haven’t got to see their work. I know that it’s an incredibly competitive category though. I’m just honoured to be a part of it.
THM: Finally, could you just tell our readers what they could expect from a night out at ‘Bright Star’?
CC: If you come with an open heart, you can expect to be moved to laughter and tears and then laughter again. And you’ll walk out humming those tunes. They are very catchy.
THM: And they have the most optimistic lyrics on Broadway right now.
CC: Yes, they do.
THM: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Carmen.
CC: It’s been so lovely to meet you.