Alan Cumming to Bring His Cabaret-Style Show to KC

Photo: THEGINGERB3ARDMEN

Alan Cumming’s performing talents are as remarkable as they are varied.

The powerhouse from Scotland made his mark on TV on the CBS hit The Good Wife, where his portrayal of political consultant Eli Gold earned him nominations for Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards. He now plays a retired CIA agent on the CBS crime show Instinct. In his theater work, Cumming won a Tony Award for his vaguely ominous turn as the Emcee in the musical Cabaret, and he played Mack the Knife opposite Cyndi Lauper in The Threepenny Opera.

On the big screen, he’s equally at home in smaller, independent films – Jane Austen’s Emma, the moody and atmospheric Urbania, and the big-screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus – or huge Hollywood movies, such as Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion or X-Men 2.

At 7 p.m. Sunday, May 13, Cumming will bring his new one-man show, Legal Immigrant, to Helzberg Hall at Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Staged in a cabaret-style format, the show will feature songs and stories of the performer’s life and loves in his adopted U.S. homeland, where he’s been a citizen since 2008, along with his thoughts on where we, as a nation, may be headed in regard to our attitudes toward immigration.

One of the key reasons his resume is so wide-ranging and diverse may be that the man is not one to back down from an artistic challenge that lesser performers would slink away from.

“I do feel I’m fearless in terms of if it’s right for the character or for the performance – or if I feel something strongly during a song, I will address it and go for it,” he says. “I definitely give it my all, and so I’d venture in that way I’m fearless. But I’ve done those things not just because someone arbitrarily says or thinks I shouldn’t. I do them because I feel it’s the right thing for the character, or for the story I’m trying to tell.”

Alan and Billy. Photo: THEGINGERB3ARDMEN

Cumming has won more than 30 awards for his humanitarianism and social activism – among them the Great Scot and Icon of Scotland awards from his homeland. He was named an Officer of the British Empire for his outstanding contributions to the arts and to LGBT rights.

He considers himself to be happily bisexual, and he is a strong and unabashed proponent of the often-overlooked or marginalized “B” in the acronym LGBT. How does he feel the public’s understanding and acceptance has evolved in terms of those who feel an attraction to members of both sexes?

“I think that there’s still a ways to go,” he says. “I still think there’s a resistance to the notion on the whole of it from both gays and heteros, but it’s much better than it used to be.”

For this improvement, Cumming gives credit to members of the transgender community for maintaining their visibility and for struggling to open the public’s hearts and minds just by daring to be who they are.

“Because of them, people – and now society in general – are starting to understand the idea of being ‘between’ two things and not being one thing,” he says. “We really have people who now consider bisexuality as being something more fluid than fixed – and what that means is that you don’t want to be assigned as either. That’s really all that bisexuality is all about.”

Though he’s married to a man, Cumming says, he still considers himself to be bisexual. “I could never have sex for the rest of my life, but I’d still consider myself bisexual. It’s about desire, not necessarily about who you’re partners with – nor, for that matter, the sex that you have.”

When he talks about his upcoming appearances, his enthusiasm shows.

“It’s a happy time for me right now,” Cumming says. “I’m on the road with my show and really love that I’m going to all these different cities and just kind of being with my little band. It’s really kind of lovely. I feel like we’re these old-school minstrels going from city to city plying our musical trade!”

He has been to Kansas City several times, and he recalls both the city and its inhabitants fondly. The first time, he says, was in March 2012 when he performed at UMKC for the grand opening of fellow “out and proud” singer Chely Wright’s LIKEME Lighthouse, an LGBT community center. The LIKEME Lighthouse has since been replaced in that same location by the new LGBTQ Kansas City Center for Inclusion.

“That time was pretty much all about the LGBT community because it was the opening of Chely’s place, and it was a really lovely thing, too,” he says. “The people I met at that time were like ‘Thank you so much for coming – we don’t get many people coming here who are ‘out’ … so that was very warm and welcoming.”

The next time he visited was for a gala benefit for Planned Parenthood in 2016. Afterward, he and members of his orchestra went with the event organizer to a production of The Rocky Horror Show at Prohibition Hall, which their host happened to also be appearing in.

“We went to a live midnight performance of the actual stage show, and I met loads of other people just at that,” he remembers. “It just felt like a really big, fun, vibrant room! I definitely felt that this also was a fantastic chance to be meeting everyone, so I’m very excited to be coming to town here again!”

Photo: THEGINGERB3ARDMEN

Cumming says he has long been a fan of cabaret-style presentations, practically from his earliest days of performing.

“Along with acting in plays,” he says, “the first kind of ‘professional’ thing I did was as half of a double act called ‘Victor and Barry’.”

He laughs when describing the act, which combined stand-up comedy with songs and music, noting that videos of the duo can be found on YouTube. “What we did then was definitely an old-fashioned type of cabaret – kind of like what I’m doing now! I loved the fact that you could gauge the atmosphere and turn it on its head with one song to the other, or one genre of song to the other. Depending on what you’re talking about, you could be making people laugh, then making them cry. I really love the immediacy of it and the volatile nature of cabaret, because there’s also that danger of the unknown, as well.”

He cites one example of this so-called “danger” that he witnessed while attending one such performance by the German cabaret singer Ute Lemper, who, he reports, actually took a man’s wallet in the middle of one of her numbers. “And she didn’t give it back!” Cumming says. “He had to go and find her after, but if ever you could do something like this, it would be with a cabaret.”

His performances of Legal Immigrant are not his first foray into one-man cabaret-style programs. In 2016, he toured in a comparably structured show titled Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs.

But this show has more topicality than the previous production, and it is centered on a subject near and dear to the performer’s heart.

“I’m an immigrant to this country — I became a citizen 10 years ago,” he says. “And as such, I thought it was a really terrible thing that the word ‘immigrant’ essentially has undergone such a bad, negative connotation now because of the way [President] Trump has dealt with not just immigrants, but refugees, and people who are, what I’d call being viewed as ‘the other.’ I wanted to highlight the fact that it doesn’t really matter whether your papers say ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’, and I want to challenge people about that – along with the thought that 10 years into my citizenship, I’m feeling very slighted by the powers that be in this country, because if what is happening now was happening 10 years ago, I don’t even know that they would’ve let me in! It’s an interesting time when we’ve gone so far from embracing immigration – which once was seen as the very ‘code’ of America – to making it something that is vilified.”

He notes that in February, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services removed the phrase “nation of immigrants” from the mission statement on its website.

The Kansas City engagement of Legal Immigrant comes not long after its official debut on May 6 in Seattle, but although there were still a few details to be nailed down when we spoke to him, he has a very clear picture as to what the audience can look forward to.

“I’ve chosen the songs …,” he says. “I do one that’s a mash-up Adele and Peggy Lee, and I’ve got, you know, Sondheim and Pink — it goes all over the place.”

What the songs have in common is his emotional connection to them, he says. “Hopefully, too, my singing them will make people listen to them again in a different way. I always say that the thought behind my singing a song is that there’s got to be some reason for me to sing it; that way I can act it or highlight it in a unique way.”

If there was one song in Cumming’s repertoire that he feels truly sums up who he is and everything he’s been through to get here, what might that be?

“My musical director Lance Horne wrote an amazing song called ‘American’ for his album called First Things Last, and I sang it on that,” he says. “I just love singing it because it very much sums up my feelings about how I love being in this country, I love living in New York, but also … how I have misgivings about how it’s going and about many of the attitudes that are being encouraged across the country.”

When it comes to the stories he plans to relate, Cumming says: “I mean to talk about some of my early trips to America, and more about this issue of immigration, while imparting some of my own experiences in that way.”

What one message or idea would he like the audience to take away from their evening? “I would say that the most important thing is that you connect with other people and to listen – and to NOT buy in to the present rhetoric.”

He concludes; “Try to do the right thing according to your own set of moral standards, and that’s all you can do ... but sometimes we risk losing sight of that when there’s so much rhetoric – and encouragement –around for us to be less good people than I believe we all are.”

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is at 1601 Broadway, in Kansas City, Mo. For tickets to Legal Immigrant, visit http://tickets.kauffmancenter.org. To keep up with Alan Cumming, go to http://www.alancumming.com/ or follow him at https://www.instagram.com/alancummingsnaps/.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Joe Eats World

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