Alan Cumming Reveals Himself with ‘Sappy Songs’

When Alan Cumming steps onto the stage at the Majestic Theatre this summer, he will need no introduction. With a career spanning nearly three decades, you may recognize the 51-year-old actor and singer from Hollywood blockbusters (X-Men 2, Spy Kids, GoldenEye) or perhaps as Eli Gold on the critically acclaimed CBS drama The Good Wife. He is a Tony Award-winning actor (for his role in the 1998 revival of Cabaret) and a New York Times best-selling author (for the 2015 memoir Not My Father’s Son). Since premiering his latest cabaret show, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, in 2015 at New York’s famed Café Carlyle, the actor has been wowing live audiences through his interpretations of popular songs and Broadway standards. In anticipation of his San Antonio performance, Out In SA spoke with Cumming over the phone from his home in New York City.

You’ve talked about the difficulty of performing a show as yourself versus performing under “the veil of a character.” Have you become more comfortable singing as yourself and making yourself vulnerable in front of audiences in recent years?
Definitely. This show, I’ve only been doing it for the past year, but I have done concerts since 2009, when I did the first one (I Bought a Blue Car Today). Since I wrote my book last year, so many things have come out in my life that contributed to me being a more open cabaret performer. In terms of feeling more comfortable and getting myself out there, I certainly feel I’ve kind of come into my own.

Can you talk about a time when you were unexpectedly overcome with emotion during your show?
Often. One of the songs I sing is by Rufus Wainwright, “Dinner at 8,” which he wrote about his father, and I sort of relate to my own father. It’s a very sad song. If I’m going to be a good actor, I’m going to feel these things, so it’s part of the whole show. It’s actually every show, I would say, I kind of shed a tear.

Alan Cumming photographed by Tré at Carnegie Hall

Alan Cumming photographed by Tré at Carnegie Hall

What about Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know”? What’s your personal connection to that song?
I sing that song at the beginning of the show. I just think it’s a beautiful, haunting song. There is always a level to these songs that I just think is so beautiful. A lot of these songs are pop songs that people know and think that they understand, and what I feel that I’m doing is hopefully showing them in a different light.

You also include a couple of mashups of popular songs. Would you say you are very much in tune with popular culture?
Yeah; I try not to think about it too much. I think you can become obsessed with it, but I have a healthy connection to it. And also I have a young assistant; I have people around me who are sort of from that generation. It’s important to have that energy in your life, so yeah. I don’t do Facebook much but I have Instagram and Twitter. I’m an intelligent person in the world, and I think that’s enough.

Have you always secretly wanted to be a pop star?
I suppose as much as everyone else does. My mom always tells this story of how I used to sing in front of the mirror hoping to get discovered, and she always ends up telling that to reporters and on television. I think every 9-year-old does that. But I guess I feel that being a rock star doesn’t mean that you just have to play music. You know what I mean? Gloria Steinem is a rock star in my eyes. So that’s the spirit — that kind of strong, spunky, prepared to be vulnerable, and sort of kick-ass spirit. That’s definitely something I’ve always aspired to be.

Was there a model for the show, or perhaps a specific performance that inspired you to create your cabaret show?
I did a revival of Cabaret on Broadway in 2014, and during that year, I was asked to do a new show at the Café Carlyle in New York. I thought, if I’m going to do another show at this amazing venue, I’ve got to really go for it. I want to be open and honest and sing songs that I really connect to in an emotional way. And it was also partly because I had this revelation that the more open and honest, and authentic I am as a person, as well as an artist, the more I connect with people. Of people that I know and I talk a little bit about, Liza Minnelli was actually very helpful when I was first thinking of doing a show like this back in 2009. If there is really anyone who I try to study, it’s someone like her who is completely connecting to the audience. That’s something that I aspire to.

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You were cast in the movie Hurricane Bianca starring Bianca Del Rio (aka Roy Haylock), which recently premiered at Inside Out Festival in Toronto. What are some of your thoughts on the art of drag?
Well, I’ve known Bianca for years in New York. She and Roy
are both lovely people; I really like them both. I did that because I liked the script and I wanted to support her. It’s interesting — drag is having this huge, exciting time because of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I think it’s great. My one criticism about it is: I went to a drag show recently, and the drag queen that was hosting it mentioned that there are never really any older drag queens — they are always very young, the people who are on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I actually think that’s a very good point … Also, I have to add, I was in Columbus, Ohio, about six weeks ago and I saw the greatest drag show I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Nina West was her name.

You starred as Eli Gold on The Good Wife for seven seasons, a rare opportunity for most actors. What was your state of mind after the series finale aired on CBS earlier this year?
My state of mind was pretty healthy, I think. I believed it was coming to an end for a long time, actually. I was going to leave this year anyway. I was ready for it to end. I’m very sanguine about shows ending, actually. I’m always ready for the next thing. You always kind of know when something is coming to an end, but the thing with TV shows is that it could potentially end every year. The fact that I did it for six years is an amazing thing. I had a great time and I’m very proud of it. It was a really great thing for me in many ways. I did my last scene on the series, and the next day, I left for Los Angeles to do another film — on to the next.

Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
$35-$95
7:30pm Sunday, June 26
The Majestic Theatre
224 E. Houston St.
(210) 226-3333
majesticempire.com

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