Carmen Cusack Biography | Who Is Carmen Cusack
Carmen Cusack is an American musical theater actress and singer. She is famously known for playing Elphaba in the Chicago, North American Tour and Melbourne productions of the musical Wicked. She is also known for originating the role of Alice Murphy in the Broadway musical, Bright Star. She got a Tony Award nomination and a 2016 Theatre World Award for her Broadway debut.
After completing her university studies at the University of North Texas and graduating with a performing arts degree, Carmen Cusack moved to England. She took the job on the MS Queen Elizabeth 2, which changed the course of her career. She played her breakthrough role as Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera. Immediately after, she made her West End debut as Fantine in Les Misérables. She also appeared in the original West End productions of The Secret Garden and Personals.
On 12th December, 2006 Carmen Cusack later to America and joined the Chicago production of Wicked as the standby for the lead role of Elphaba. The producers were happy with her work and asked her to star in the lead role on the show’s first national tour, that begun in October 2007. She left the tour on 2nd November, 2008, and was replaced by Donna Vivino, who had been her standby. From 10th June to 10th July Carmen Cusack was in the Melbourne production in Australia, as the temporary standby for Elphaba: Amanda Harrison had taken a break from the show due to illness, and the standby, Jemma Rix, had been given the lead role. Cusack was with the company from June 10 to July 10, 2009.
Carmen Cusack played Nellie Forbush in the first national tour of South Pacific in 2009. For this role She was nominated, for this role, for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non Resident Production. She played the role of Miss Gardner in the Off-Broadway revival of Carrie – The Musical, which began performances at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on 31st January, 2012. Her play was however limited as it ran til 8th April, 2012. In 2013, Carmen Cusack played the role of Mother in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s critically acclaimed production of Ragtime (musical).
From 26th September to 4th November, 2012, Carmen Cusack appeared as Dot/Marie in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Sunday in the Park with George. Early February, 2015 she appeared in the production of the new musical First Wives Club as Annie. She made her Broadway debut on 24th March, 2016 in Bright Star. For her performance, Carmen Cusack won a Theatre World Award. She also received nominations for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in a Musical, the Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Carmen Cusack reprised the role of Alice during the musical’s North American tour stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Salt Lake City.
Carmen Cusack Age | How Old Is Carmen Cusack
Carmen Cusack was born in Denver, Colorado, USA on 25th April, 1971. She is 48 years old as of 2019.
Carmen Cusack Net Worth
Carmen Cusack has an approximated net worth of $6 million. She has accumulated her massive wealth from her talent.
Carmen Cusack Height
Carmen Cusack Height is not known.
Carmen Cusack Family
Carmen Cusack has been on the limelight for some time now. She has however suceeded in keeping her family a secret. There is no information about her parents or her siblings.
Carmen Cusack Dating | Carmen Cusack Husband | Who Is Carmen Cusack Married To
Carmen Cusack got married to her husband Paul Telfer on 1st December, 2012. Carmen Cusack and Paul have been married for more than 6 years and there are no romours or report of a poor relationship between the two.
Carmen Cusack Awards And Nominations
|2011||Helen Hayes Award||Outstanding Lead Actress, Non-Resident Production||South Pacific||Nominated|
|2013||Joseph Jefferson Award||Actress in a Principal Role in a Musical||Sunday in the Park with George||Nominated|
|2016||Helen Hayes Award||Outstanding Performer, Visiting Production||Bright Star||Nominated|
|Tony Award||Best Actress in a Musical||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Performance||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Nominated|
|Theatre World Award||Honoree|
|2017||Grammy Award||Best Musical Theater Album||Nominated|
Carmen Cusack Interview
Q: What has your process been for picking songs for your 54 Below concert?
Carmen Cusack: It really depends on the situation, it depends what I’ve just come out of, but for this [concert] I really felt like I needed to speak to my Bright Star fans and give them some of that music, but along with that I’m going to add some flavors of my own favorites that complement the style of Bright Star’s music. I’m also going to be singing some songs that were, unfortunately, cut from Bright Star. I’m so happy that we came up with the show that we came up with, but along the way they’d just continue to write beautiful songs, and several of those songs I became very attached to, and they had to drop them—these little gems kept falling off of our Bright Star wooden house that twirls around.
Q: Do you find your interpretation of songs changes depending on the setting? If you’re doing them within the context of a show where you’re responsible for an entire through line versus in concert?
Carmen Cusack: Absolutely, it changes. But this is going to be exciting because I can bring my own interpretation into the songs, and I’ve picked songs that stand on their own without a through line. They’re just really strong songs that give a story point or, hopefully, that’s what the audience will understand: that I don’t necessarily need a storyline. I don’t really have a story theme in my show. I’m going to fill in some blanks. People that keep asking, “Who is Carmen Cusack,” I really want to answer that question in different ways and take them on a tiny bit of a journey. Not my full journey, because that would take way too long, but I want to fill in the blanks on a couple of questions that have been asked through this process.
Q: Does that feel like extra pressure when putting your concert together? “Who is she?” is a really broad question.
Carmen Cusack: No, it’s actually really freeing for me to come here and to feel no one has any major expectations of what they want to hear me sing. That gives me freedom to sing the things that I like to listen to and the things that I like to sing. There are certain roles that I probably wouldn’t go back to because my style, my musicality, my musical sensibilities have evolved. But I am going to hopefully scratch that itch for audience members that want to hear a few of my older roles that I played, like Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera and Fantine in Les Mis. I’m going to compile them in a more edited down version of those songs.
Q: Do you think it’s different being asked to answer that question now than at 22?
Carmen Cusack: Yes, and I’m so glad that I did wait until now—not that I’ve been waiting to come to Broadway, but my journey has just been such that I’ve taken the work that I’ve wanted to take, and wherever it might have been, there it was. I’m not much of an intensively ambitious person, but I do like to do good work and I like to work with really good people, and that to me is most important.
Q: With songs, do you find yourself usually attracted to the music or the lyrics first?
Carmen Cusack: The music has to hit me first. And then the lyrics. Of course. both are very, very important, absolutely crucial. But I just need to hear a good tune, a good melody first, something that moves me in a way that I want to be moved. I also like working on music that’s honest, it’s not trying to put on a particular face or a particular style. I like honest music, and I feel like Bright Star really did that for me.
Q: You’re doing songs you wrote, as well?
Carmen Cusack: I am. I’m going to do at least one or two of my own originals every show, and alternate them, because I have many, many originals.
Q: What’s your process like for writing your own music? Do you start with a feeling or a visual image?
Carmen Cusack: It usually comes from the feeling or a story that has inspired me, and it mainly comes from my memory of my stories growing up as a child. Sometimes it starts with a lyric, sometimes it starts with melody, or just a musical lick, so I’ll get on my guitar and see if I can play that lick. If I can’t, then I record it onto my little recording device and go to my band and say, “I have this idea and I can’t play it just yet.”
Q: When did you start writing music?
Carmen Cusack: I started writing music when I was back in London, so that was almost 10 years ago.
Q: What inspired you to start writing?
Carmen Cusack: I watched the movie Cold Mountain—of course, I had written before then, gosh I’ve been writing longer than that—but what got me back into the idea of writing was I watched the movie Cold Mountain and all that folk and fiddle stuff just got in my head. It took me back to my youth, and I started getting inspired again, so that’s when I bought a guitar and started writing. Certainly not my first song, and not my second song, but I think my third song was incredibly folk—just very, very simple and an incredibly straight down the line folk tune. Not all my stuff is folk, a lot of my stuff is a bit more Americana, but I think that’s what really got me going again with angling towards an album.
Q: As a kid, did you make up a lot of stories and things like that?
Carmen Cusack: Absolutely. In several interviews I’ve opened up about how much I connect to the role of Alice Murphy, and it’s because my mother had me at the age of 16. She needed to further her schooling, so she and I both moved in with my grandparents down in Florida, and she continued her schooling while my grandparents pretty much looked after me and raised me. She was there, but I didn’t see a lot of her because she was going to school and working.
Q: What’s your acting process like? With a new project, where do you start?
Carmen Cusack: I read the script first and decide if it speaks to me, and usually it speaks to me through the character more than anything. Then I like to understand where that person’s from, what she might sound like, what her accent might be, and then go from there. I feel like the voice and the body, how one would carry themselves in a character and how they would sound, is really important for me to develop who that person is.
Q: Do you look for ways that they’re similar to you, or do you look for characters who are really different, who freak you out?
Carmen Cusack: It’s the ones that are different and freak me out that are the ones that I should embrace. But like anybody, I think we tend to want to stay in our comfort zone. I’ve really tried to branch out and do things that are a bit more challenging, and those are actually some of the most rewarding, like Dot/Marie from Sunday in the Park with George. It took me a while to understand what I was going to do with that role. Then the light bulb came on, literally overnight, and it just was quite magical.
Q: A big theme in interviews is how someone develops as an artist while they’re also developing as a person. Especially for actresses, because you have so many people telling you about yourself all the time, like what your type is and all that. How was that development process for you, especially since you were American and living overseas?
Carmen Cusack: Luckily I don’t think I’ve ever given anyone an opportunity to say what my type is because I decided I wanted to change it up pretty much immediately in my career. I had grown up in gospel music, but then what started getting the ball rolling for me in music was classical singing. I received a scholarship at the University of North Texas for opera singing. That lent itself immediately to the role of Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera. Nearing the end of that contract, I was asked to audition for Cosette in Les Mis, which would be the next step with the style of that singing—the soprano, the ingénue soprano.
Q: Where do you think that confidence, for lack of a better word, came from, to be like, “No, I’m going to not buy into that”?
Carmen Cusack: I was young and had just come from the states and probably was a lot cockier than the British would have liked to embrace. They didn’t necessarily embrace me because of my confidence in what I knew I could do and being able to sing all these different styles. I think they didn’t know what to do with me, and there was a point where they thought, “Who the heck does she think she is?” But, whatever. I’m never here to be Miss Popular because I never was, and I’m fine with that.
Q: How did you continue to navigate the industry but also do what you wanted to do?
Carmen Cusack: Sometimes I don’t know that you have much control over it, especially when you’re young and you’re just starting out. You don’t really navigate it just yet. You have to prove your worth and then begin to navigate it. Starting out, I just took the work. I wasn’t very picky. I wanted to gain a resume; I wanted to show what I was about. But in the past decade, I’ve started to navigate and be more in control of the things that I want to do. Nowadays, if I don’t like something, I don’t audition for it. I don’t even put it out there in the atmosphere that I’m interested.
Q: Did you find that there was any sort of adjustment or learning process going from one culture to the other?
Carmen Cusack: Absolutely. Going back to me being a bit American and a bit cocky in England, I think for women in that industry at that time in London, if you walked into a situation feeling completely in control and confident, it could sometimes read that you’re a bit of a diva. I’ve never been difficult to work with, not that I know of, and I’ve never tried to make that a thing or come across that way. I started to realize that I was going to have to walk into a room and almost apologize for being there.
Q: And going through some of that during years that are formative and you’re just trying to figure things out to begin with.
Carmen Cusack: When you’re figuring it all out, and you’re like, “Yes ma’am, yes ma’am. If that’s what I’ve got to do, okay. It’s really fine. I’ll just go in there and, what can I do for you?” I don’t know that that necessarily got me the jobs either. I just feel like what I’ve learned from both sides of it is that I’ve got to start being myself. I don’t need to talk myself a big talk in the mirror. I just need to be comfortable in my own skin and know that what I’m going to bring to the table, no one else can bring to the table, because no one else has walked in my shoes and taken on what I’ve experienced.
Q: Recently, with having to do so much press and other obligations, have you had to figure out your boundaries for all of that stuff? It comes up a lot in interviews that so much of that sort of thing is stuff no one teaches you.
Carmen Cusack: Exactly, and going back to your earlier question, “Would you have done things differently if you were in your twenties?” Absolutely. I would have been a friggin’ idiot, because we all are [when we’re in our 20s]. I still to this day put my foot in my mouth. Lord knows what I was like when I was younger, when I was in my twenties.
Q: Do you find there’s some extra baggage with being a woman and trying to set boundaries or be taken seriously when you say something?
Carmen Cusack: I don’t worry about that stuff. I don’t worry about being taken seriously. They’re going to take what they want to take from me and I really don’t care. That’s how it is. I’m so glad to be at this point in my life where I hope that they walk away having enjoyed their time with me, if that’s what it’s about. I hope people walk away thinking, yes she’s got something there, but I really, to be honest, don’t care. At some point you’ve just got to let it go, otherwise it’ll just drive you nuts.
Q: Was there a formative moment that led you to that or just life experience?
Carmen Cusack: No, it’s every day. It’s every day dealing with that and thinking, “Do I care today?” I care about being a good, kind person. Whatever somebody is going to take from that, however they’re going to misinterpret it or interpret it, I can’t do anything about that, so why worry about it, really? So I don’t.
Q: Have you, to an extent, had that attitude since you were a little kid?
Carmen Cusack: No, I went through an insecure phase. We all go through our insecurities, and there’s even some days, some months, some years, that we go through this up and down process of [asking] am I good enough, am I good enough? But, really, in the end it doesn’t matter. You’re either going to get the job or you’re not, and you just have to keep trucking.
Q: What do you bring into the rehearsal room?
Carmen Cusack: I like to try and be as prepared as I possibly can, and then let the rest make its way together with the rest of the cast and the director and the collaborative team. I think there’s a problem with getting too rehearsed before you enter a room with other artists, because then you’re not keeping your heart and your mind open to their work. I like to find that balance.
Q: Do you also think about that in leading a company?
Carmen Cusack: I feel like I’ve learned a lot with being a leading lady. From South Pacific especially, when you’re traveling with a cast and you’re the lead in the show. When you’re traveling with a cast, you get to know them on so many other levels, almost as a family unit. You learn about how to be the captain, how to be the mom, how to be the friend. I feel like I’ve always had that facility in me. I don’t think it’s anything you can be taught necessarily, you either have it in you or you don’t.
Q: Are there types of characteristics that you look for in roles that you want to take on in the future?
Carmen Cusack: I want to venture further into the Southern Gothic concept. I’d love, love, love, love to do a Tracy Letts play. I’d like to do some plays and then work on music separately for a little bit. But if the right [musical] comes along, there’s nothing better than when acting and music come together and move people. I think it’s probably the most powerful thing we can do.
Q: What’s something that you think can be done to improve how new work is developed?
Carmen Cusack: It’s very hard to get a brand new story on the Broadway stage—and can I change that question into—I think what we need to do is start answering the question: why is it that audiences only want to go to shows that they can read about first, that there’s been a movie about, there’s been a book about? We need to answer that question. I think there’s so much more to be learned by new material and new projects. There just needs to be more of an open mind.
Q: Speaking of audience engagement, I noticed that Bright Star had a number of female fans who were thinking about the show very analytically and in a very engaged way.
Carmen Cusack: That’s what I noticed as well.
Q: Let’s talk about that.
Carmen Cusack: I was so blown away by the sophistication of these young people that got it on so many levels. You’re going to go into a show, you don’t know anything about it, and it’s bluegrass, hillbilly music, and then to have been touched… this story is a human story. It gets to your heart, it makes you feel something. Not every show does that. Other shows have other reasons to move you or inspire you; this one hits you right in the heart. And why be cynical about that? I think you go into these things being a little bit cynical, but then you leave and you’re thinking differently and you’re feeling differently, and you want to call your mom or your dad, and you just want to have that connection with that person you haven’t connected with for a while.
Q: Do you think with Bright Star people may have been a little confused, because you have a strong female lead (for lack of a better term) with a job, but there’s also a pregnancy storyline, and people can see those two things as being incompatible?
Carmen Cusack: Yeah, that’s life. It was really touching on someone’s story from the age of 16 into adulthood. I don’t think a lot of shows can do that, there’s not enough time. Unless you do it in a very particular way, in a smart sophisticated way, you can’t always pull it off. But I think that’s why it touched people. Because they were able to invest in a young girl and see her arc in a way that’s very difficult to convey on stage in a matter of a couple of hours.
Q: Do you have a spiritual life and does it affect your work?
Carmen Cusack: I used to. I grew up highly religious. I went to Bible College. My first year of college was Bible College because we didn’t have any money, so I competed in gospel and got to the national level and was offered several scholarships to bible colleges. I got the demons cast out of me several times, and I think that was my red flag of this is not working out, this does not compute, you need to not go down this road because you’re not going to be a missionary. But I feel like my love for my friends and my husband and my family is my spiritual outlet.
Q: Was it weird at all, going into a career where nobody else in your family did anything like that?
Carmen Cusack: Well, my real father is a musician, he does gigs. Literally two years before she got pregnant with me, my mom was encouraged at school that she was a great actress—she won the best actress award in her school—and I think that she probably would have gone into the industry had she not chosen to have me, and then she got married and had three more girls. I think she might have probably tried to pursue it. But no, no one in our family did, so here we are.
Q: I imagine that’s really hard to navigate, because who do you ask for advice in that situation?
Carmen Cusack: You just have to ask yourself and be true to yourself and be true to your heart, and that’s the best that I could say at that point. I was so young, and I thought I’d never work again. It was my first job. I thought, “If I walk out of here [that’s it].” And also I didn’t have an understudy—one was on holiday and the other one had bronchitis.
Q: Do you have any mentors in the industry?
Carmen Cusack: Yes, I have two. Faith Prince and Dee Hoty. Faith Prince I worked with on First Wives Club, and she continued to coach me on a gala that I was asked to do at the Old Globe not too long ago. She actually does workshops for people that are putting together cabarets and concerts. I asked her advice, and we would do a little Skype session together, and I still to this day would call her at any given moment asking her for her advice.
Q: Do you find that it’s important to have people like that?
Carmen Cusack: It is. More than anything, it’s important to know that you need to ask for help sometimes. That’s been a learning curve for me, because for so long I didn’t ask for any help. I left home really young, I went to England, and became very self sufficient almost to a fault that I wouldn’t ask for help, and I’ve learned that it’s so important.
Q: What’s something you think the theatre industry can do to make things better for women working in it?
Carmen Cusack: Better pay. Absolutely. I think they expect women to work harder, because women do, for the most part. We have to do double duty in a lot of ways to prove ourselves. By the time you end up in a rehearsal situation, usually it’s the women that know what they’re doing—they know their lines, they know everything—and the men have to catch up to them.