If this show is called “Bad Boys of Broadway in Concert,” what is she doing here?
“We have bad girls on Broadway, too,” says Carmen Cusack, defending her right to be part of the upcoming Casa Mañana revue that will unite her with three male singers. “Those parts are more interesting to me.”
It should be pointed out that Cusack, who earned her first professional paycheck at Casa, is not really bad. She’s just cast that way. The most defining role thus far in her international musical-theater career has been as Elphaba, the green witch, in the touring production of the fabulously popular Stephen Schwartz musical Wicked.
Director Tim Bennett said that having Cusack join John Cudia, Jason Wooten and Josh Tower in a themed evening of show-tune performances was the idea of Casa executive producer Wally Jones.
“He just wanted to add a little more variety and add a little twist that people may not expect,” said Bennett, a Las Vegas-based director and choreographer who frequently works at Casa. His recent shows there have included 42nd Street, Rent and Miss Saigon.
Cusack studied opera at the University of North Texas.
“I try to mix [operatic and Broadway-style singing],” said Cusack, who was born in Denver but grew up in Houston. “I got hired to work on the QE2 [ocean liner] immediately following my studies at UNT. I just wanted to see the world. I was doing more popular music, and that kind of sent me down this other way of singing. Then I ended up in England, and the first thing I auditioned for was Phantom of the Opera, so I was able to use my operatic training on Christine.”
The development of this show, which unites four singers who have not worked together before and a director who has worked with only one of them, is a testament to the role of the Internet and social media in contemporary theater practices.
“Selecting the music was one of the most fun parts. I posted on Facebook that I was looking for villain songs,” Bennett said. “I got a big, long list. Then Wally and I put our lists together, and I made a big old Excel chart that kind of broke them down by solos and duets, up-tempos and ballads, serious and comic, etc. I don’t how many we had — maybe 250 to 300 songs. Then we started to make a mix. We were in a candy store. We got to pick the most amazing songs.”
And the team returned to the Internet when it was time to cast the show.
“We knew what types we were looking for. There were a lot of people Wally had worked with and a lot of people who were recommended to us,” Bennett said. “Everybody has stuff online now. We looked at everybody’s work on YouTube and we were blown away. They are all top-notch singers.”
All of the performers have dazzling résumés. Cudia, whom Bennett described as “a leading-man type,” has sung the title role in Phantom on Broadway. Wooten is especially known for singing in rock-tinted shows on the Great White Way such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and he also played Roger in a Casa production of Rent directed by Bennett in 2012. Tower, whom Bennett praised for possessing a “sweet, rich bari-tenor,” has done The Lion King on Broadway and was seen in Casa’s production of Camelot last year.
Bennett said the singers will be doing tunes from a wide range of Broadway shows, from the very old Damn Yankees to the very recent Wonderland. Their efforts will be supported by a 16-piece, on-stage orchestra led by musical director W. Brent Sawyer.
Jones hopes to develop the show into a national symphony tour after its three-day, four-performance run at Casa.
If that national venture is successful, though, he might have a hard time booking Cusack. She may be pursuing a new tangent in her career in a style of music she calls “metal bluegrass.”
“It is kind of folk, but edgier than folk. Not country, more Western, but folk-Western, if that makes sense,” she said. “I am trying so hard to finish an album of mostly original stuff that I had in my jewel box collection of songs.”
Her efforts in that area have always taken a back seat to her musical-theater work, but those very different career tracks may intersect soon.
“And then here comes Steve Martin with his music, which is very much down the line of what I am trying to work on with my own album,” said Cusack, referring to the noted comedian’s recent success with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. “As soon as this finishes, I am going straight back to New York to work on a new project that is still kind of hush-hush, but I will say that Steve Martin and [Dallas native] Edie Brickell, whom I worked with earlier this year, are working on a new musical.”