SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns will have the rare chance to see Broadway star Carmen Cusack take the stage for the last time in her Tony-nominated role in “Bright Star” Jan. 12-27 at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre.
Cusack originated the role of Alice Murphy in early workshops of the Steve Martin/Edie Brickell musical and led “Bright Star” eight shows a week throughout its Broadway run. But when the show closed, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the role that made her a star.
Which is why Cusack signed on to star in its first national tour for three special stops in L.A., San Francisco and Salt Lake City.
“It’s bittersweet. I’ve been with this role for four years, and I’m not ready to give it up yet,” Cusack said in an interview. “It’s going to be really difficult to hand over the baton to someone else.”
Cusack earned rave reviews and a Tony nomination for her star-making portrayal of Alice Murphy, a precocious teen who grows up to be a Southern magazine editor.
But Cusack is no stranger to leading roles on the stage. She’s traveled the world as Christine Daae in “The Phantom of the Opera,” Elphaba in “Wicked” and Fantine in “Les Miserables.”
“She is just a tour de force,” said co-star Patrick Cummings, who plays love interest Jimmy Ray Dobbs. “Carmen is just the loveliest actor to work across the stage from — you have no idea.”
Alice Murphy is a role Cusack knew she wanted when she first heard rumors Grammy Award-winning songwriters Martin and Brickell were working on a show together.
“As soon as I heard they were writing a musical I thought, ‘Well, this has to happen,'” Cusack said. “And I never looked back.”
After reading the script, Cusack knew Alice was perfect for her. She said she “immediately connected” with the role, since her mother had her when she was 16 and had to deal with the repercussions of having a baby so young. And along with that connection, Cusack said she also finds the script incredibly hopeful — something she sees audiences find as well, night after night.
“(Alice) has this tragic thing that happens to her at a young age, and she gets past it and moves on and still goes after her dreams,” Cusack said. “I can totally relate to that — most everyone can. The story really grabbed me. You go on a ride where you’re not sure where it’s going to take you. By the end, you’re clearly moved by a therapeutic experience."
A.J. Shively, who plays Billy Cane, remembers the table read during the first day of the "Bright Star" workshop. He said he was astounded watching Cusack move from playing 1920s teenage Alice to the seasoned, 1945 literary editor Alice.
“She drops 20 years right before your eyes,” Shively said. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s a Tony nomination.’ It’s undeniable. It’s one of those performances where you know it’s just undeniable — it’s master work. It’s a master class.”
Shively said it’s that “master class” acting by Cusack that prompted eight of the original Broadway cast members to sign on for the tour.
“It’s the opportunity to keep working with her,” Shively said. “I learn so much from her every day.”
Cummings said it's truly a unique experience to see the Broadway production essentially transported to the mountains of Salt Lake City.
“This particular story will never be told like this again after Salt Lake,” Cummings said. “It will be told in interesting great ways, but it won’t be the original.”
“Bright Star” closed on Broadway in June 2016 after 109 performances. Although it had a good run, this unique, bluegrass musical was overshadowed by the powerhouse juggernaut “Hamilton,” which swept the Tony Awards and became a national phenomenon.
“It all happened so fast on Broadway that we couldn’t catch our breath before we were finishing our contracts there,” Cusack said. “I wasn’t ready for ‘Bright Star’ to end when it did. It’s a wonderful family to come back to. It’s nice to know this is where I’m putting my period on this journey with ‘Bright Star.’”
If you go ...
What: "Bright Star" national tour at Pioneer Theatre Company
When: Jan. 12-27, times vary
Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East
How much: $42-$64