Cusack Carmen

Carmen Cusack and Susan Werner

Bay Area Cabaret presents…
An Evening with Carmen Cusack and Susan Werner
Venetian Room, San Francisco, January 20, 2019

 One of Tony and Grammy nominee Carmen Cusack’s (Bright Star, Wicked, Sunday in the Park with George) great qualities is her consistency – every show is going to sustain a high level of vocal mastery, which combined with her genuine charm makes for an entertaining evening. Buoyed by her recent successes on the small and large screens, Cusack was in an upbeat mood, which she transferred onto her audience.

With her trademark twang, she launched into “If You Knew My Story” and “Way Back in the Day” (Steve Martin/Edie Brickell), signature songs from her starring role as Alice Murphy in 2016’s Broadway hit Bright Star. She’ll be starring alongside Tom Hanks in a Fred Rogers biopic due out later this year and to honor the project she sang a medley of Mr. Rogers songs: “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”, It’s You I Like” and “It’s Such a Good Feeling” (Fred Rogers).

 “Middle Lane”, an original tune, recalls her time spent living in England.  Her stunning vocal control and subtlety were displayed on “The Nearness of You” and the jazzy “Last Friday Night” (Katy Perry). Her optimism was expressed on George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”, her sublime sophistication on Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” and she topped it all off with an emotionally- charged rendition of “At Long Last” (E. Brickell) from Bright Star.

While one can revel in the constancy of Cusack’s enormous talent, the surprise revelation of this show was singer/songwriter/composer Susan Werner, a Philadelphia-based talent. Her set, comprised of original material, was smart, funny, slightly quirky and always irresistible. Werner opened with “Don’t Work with Your Friends” and “What Did You Do to Your Face?” from her Eight Unnecessary Songs CD; the former a career counseling list of don’ts and the latter a sharp-witted rumination on plastic surgery. Prefacing the romantic crooning “I Can’t Be New” with the quip that she was “Cole Porter’s smart-mouthed little sister, Colette.” The song demonstrates a capable songwriter adept at a variety of genres. Back to her sly humor, Werner whipped up some laughs on “You Kissed Your Dog on the Mouth”, her waltz-like ode to a repulsive first date experience.

The highlight of her solo set was “May I Suggest”, a hopeful encouraging folk/pop tune that leaves you feeling the goosebumps when she intones that “this is the best part of your life”. Trained in opera, Werner surprised me with a commanding version of “La Vie En Rose” (Edith Piaf), showing off yet another facet of this multi-talented performer.

Susan Werner

Joining Cusack on stage, the two presented a trio of tunes from an in-the-works musical version of the 1986 film Bull Durham that will feature a score by Werner and star Cusack as Annie Savoy. “Wayfaring Stranger”, Every Woman Deserves to Wear White” and “Damndest Season” were a synergy of two immense talents meant to join forces.  This double-bill couldn’t have been more exciting and is a pleasantly adventurous direction for Bay Area Cabaret.

Bay Area Cabaret continues March 3, 2019 with Grammy and Nightlife Award winning singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli making his annual appearance at the Venetian Room, with a 3:30 show and CD release event celebrating the centennial of Venetian Room regular Nat “King” Cole. At 7:30 that evening, his wife, the talented Broadway singer/actress Jessica Molaskey will join him for a duo show that the pair will debut at the Café Carlyle this fall. For information call (415) 392-4400 or www.bayareacabaret.org