Carmen Cusack in San Francisco, Back in NYC in March

BY LARRY MYERS **** “Her interpretations are heartfelt, but her emotionality never overwhelms the lyrics,” reports our reviewer-on-the-road.  Our New York-based writer Larry Myers has been on the road and filed this review of Carmen Cusack’s nightclub act in San Francisco.  New Yorkers who missed the Tony-nominated star of Broadway’s Bright Star in her summertime appearances in town at Feinstein’s/54 Below and thought they’d catch her return in January have had to wait a bit longer.  The January plan was postponed until March when Carmen was signed for a one-woman play about autism called Do This in Naples, Florida to begin her 2017.  Meanwhile, a live CD recorded during the New York engagement has been released on Broadway Records. Here are Myers’ musings:  

Stunning Marilyn Levinson has brought classy Manhattan cabaret to the Colisseum-sized Venetian Room at the majestic Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Ms. Levinson has helped define what comprises “cabaret” in 2017, offering pop and rock entertainment along with the usual  acclaimed torch singer types. Included on her upcoming schedule are Christine Andreas, Billy Porter & Amanda McBroom. For a Sunday afternoon performance Carmen Cusack ignited the room. The Tony Award-nominated thrush made her Broadway debut in the Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Bright Star.  Carmen offers even songs cut from what she referred to as “the soundtrack.” (score/cast album). These included “Strong Is the Heart” and “At Last.”  A highlight of her show was “The Nearness of You” (which featured expert piano work by John Boswell). Ms. Cusack brings fresh discovery to this standard.

From her very entrance, the singer evokes strains of Carmel Quinn and Ella Logan. She looks like Natalie Wood when she starred in Inside Daisy Clover.  (This critic would adore to hear her sing that film’s “You’re Gonna Hear From Me.”)  “Wayfaring Stranger,” the gospel /folk song she performed to audition for Bright Star was spellbinding. She explains how she accompanied herself on guitar and submitted a tape. This plaintive, powerful rendering won her the leading role.  She offers tastes of her decade-long triumphs in London. These included songs from Wicked (“The Wizard & I”) and Les Misérables. Her rendition of “Gonna Wash That Man Outta My Hair” from her South Pacific run was dedicated to Melania Trump. The performer explained that Doris Day in the film musical Calamity Jane had inspired her to enter show business. She then purred  a sensuous “Secret Love” from that score.   Accompanying herself on guitar she sang a piece she wrote herself, called “Shane” (about a former boyfriend).  Her performance of “As Long as He Needs Me” from Oliver! earned her a standing ovation.

It is apparent Carmen is headed for a long career as major Broadway star. She recently appeared in Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal. A selection from that Sondheim hit should be added to her song list. Ms. Cusack has  genuine appeal and reminds us of the gifted songbirds who would be frequently aired on radio in graceful days gone by.