Carmen Cusack stays busy telling her story

Tony Award nominee Carmen Cusack brings her solo act to Bay Area Cabaret. (Courtesy photo)

Tony Award nominee Carmen Cusack brings her solo act to Bay Area Cabaret. (Courtesy photo)

“Show biz! It’s definitely not for sissies,” says Carmen Cusack with a laugh.

The humor underscores her confirmation that she indeed will wrap a month-long engagement in a 90-minute one-woman drama in Florida on Saturday night and sing for her supper at the Venetian Room on Sunday in a Bay Area Cabaret show.

It was not how the Tony Award nominee originally planned to kick off the new year.

“I had January full of concert work and you guys were the only one I couldn’t change. I was worried that my voice would struggle with talking nonstop every night, but it’s been fine. I’ll be ready to let loose by Sunday.”

Her play “Do This,” a world premiere by Karen Siff Exkorn, center centers on a woman whose child is diagnosed with autism at a young age and what she faces in defending her rights and his.

“There’s a lot of humor in the script,” says Cusack. “It’s been interesting to observe the audience wanting to laugh and then not knowing if they should because of the subject matter. They realize pretty soon that it’s OK. You have to laugh through hard things, right? How else do you cope?”

The subject matter was already familiar to the singer-actress, who says, “I’ve seen the struggle firsthand. I have three sisters and the oldest has two daughters with autism, so the script was a real page-turner for me.”

The Denver native hopes to stay with the show to its next incarnation. “It’s a work in progress and they’re hoping to whip it into shape to take it to Off Broadway in the spring,” she says, adding, “It’s been great to have the luxury of a quiet, sleepy town to test it out on people.”

Cusack followed the same trajectory with “Bright Star,” the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical she helped nurture from workshop to Broadway. Playing a tough Southern newspaper editor in the 1940s with a secret past brought her to national attention.

“If You Knew My Story,” the twangy bluegrass anthem that opened “Bright Star,” became the title of Cusack’s concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below and its live CD. On the recording, she also shows off the pop vocal skills that served her well playing Christine Daae in “The Phantom of the Opera” in London and Elphaba in “Wicked” in Australia.

She says, “In New York, we sold out four concerts immediately and I realized my audience would be people who liked that kind of music and story. So, I’ve included some songs that were cut from ‘Bright Star’ along the way and just a couple of my own originals.”

Carmen Cusack
Presented by Bay Area Cabaret
Where: Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., S.F.
When: 5 p.m. Jan. 29
Tickets: $58
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.bayareacabaret.orgBay Area CabaretBright StarCarmen CusackDo ThisIf You Knew My StoryPhantom of the OperaTheaterWicked

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