Who’s in Town?: Alan Cumming Discusses His Upcoming Cabaret Show ‘Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs’ at The Kennedy Center on April 29th

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If you are like me, you would have given your right arm for an invitation to “Club Cumming,” the nightly party Alan Cumming held in his dressing room at Studio 54 after performances of Cabaret, the iconic Broadway show Cumming helmed in 1998 and again in 2014.

Alan Cumming. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Cabaret may have closed on Broadway, but “Club Cumming” lives in the form of Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, a cabaret-style show that Cumming has performed at premiere venues throughout the world. On April 29th, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs will debut at The Kennedy Center, featuring a special appearance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.

As an artist, Alan Cumming defies classification. TV audiences know him as Eli Gold on The Good Wife, while Broadway lovers swoon over his Tony-Award winning portrayal of the Emcee in Cabaret. He has performed a solo Macbeth on Broadway and portrayed evil genius Fegan Floop in the Spy Kids franchise. He is a New York Times best-selling author and a fanciful photographer. He hosts PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery and starred in a condom commercial. Oh, and the Queen named him an Officer of the British Empire.

Everything Cumming touches contains the seed of his unique, larger than life personality. It’s a life that seems to turn to myth as he lives it. In Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, Cumming pulls back the curtain on his fascinating life, offering audiences an intimate evening of stories and songs that come straight from his playful, endearing, arousing heart.

I had the great pleasure of chatting with Mr. Cumming about his upcoming performance of Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs at The Kennedy Center. Here’s what he had to say:

Alan Cumming performing his cabaret show. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Nicole: Much like you, your Sappy Songs are extremely eclectic! You do everything from Stephen Sondheim to a Scottish ballad to Billy Joel to Miley Cyrus. How do you decide what to include in your “sappy” repertoire?

Alan: The cabaret show features songs that I feel really emotionally connected to. They are an eclectic bunch of songs that I’ve always wanted to sing and songs that I feel I can bring something different to and let people hear in a different way. They are all very much songs about vulnerability and honesty and songs that I really have to commit to.

Is that where the word “sappy” comes in?

Well, I say sappy because I want to give the audience a hint of what is in store, which is that these songs are emotional but there is also humor in the show as well!

In between songs you tell some really intimate and humorous stories from your own life. You aren’t performing as a character on that stage; you are being yourself. Is that liberating? Terrifying? Both?

Well… both. But initially it’s terrifying because when you haven’t done a cabaret show before it’s a very different thing to just stand up and be you instead of having a character between you and the audience.

That’s why I took so long to do it. I did another cabaret show before this one (I Bought a Blue Car Today, 2009) that I toured a little bit. But I didn’t do that until I was in my late 40s so I have this new career developing late in life. Partly because it’s a big leap to make. I wasn’t ready to do cabaret when I was younger and now I am. I like to think that having more life experience, I’ve got more to say now which makes for a better show.

Tell me about the original “Club Cumming” that you hosted in your dressing room after Cabaret. Is that where you originally got the idea to perform some of these songs?

Every night after performing Cabaret I would host these “Club Cumming” parties in my dressing room. I got to be the DJ, which is a good thing to be because if you are obsessed with a song you can just play it again and again! We played a lot of popular songs that I had always heard and kind of liked. I realized that some songs are so overproduced that you can’t really hear what they are about. I tried to listen to them with new ears and thought… well, I can sing that!

How do you go about listening to well-known songs and reinterpreting them?

Well, you just open your heart and take your judgmental hat off and then you can listen to the lyrics to the song and hear what it’s actually about. You have to leave the snark outside!

Can I mention the cover photo of your Sappy Songs album? It’s a sensual and compelling photograph but one that I had to hide from my kids! How did that photo come about?

Ha! That was taken by a photographer named Jordan Matter who specializes in photographing dancers. He was doing this thing called Dancers After Dark in which he photographed naked dancers around New York City. He asked me to do a shoot and of course I was so flattered. I was doing this show at the Cafe Carlyle at the time so he came over.

My manager had just sent me this rather large bottle of champagne to congratulate me on hosting the Tony Awards. Jordan saw the champagne and got the idea for the photo. It was two in the morning at this point but he madly called around and got two dancers to come pose with me and we just ran outside, took our clothes off and snapped the picture!

I liked it so much that when it came time to record the album for my cabaret show, I recorded it at the Cafe Carlyle in NYC just so I could use that picture as my album cover.

And now “Club Cumming” is going to live again as an actual club in New York’s East Village?

Yeah, we are very excited!

What can people expect from that?

Well, I wanted it to be the spirit of the “Club Cumming” parties that we used to have in my dressing room. Obviously, I’m not going to be there every night, but the bar is going to represent me like my cabaret show does – not having judgement, keeping your heart open, everyone will be welcome.

It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be sexy, it’s going to be mischievous. We’re going to have games, different themes, different performances. Essentially, a place for people to come together, chill out, and connect with other people.

Kind of like your cabaret show!

That’s the whole “Club Cumming” thing. I love the fact that I am quite good at making people relax and let go. That’s what my cabaret show does. My little band and I have such fun whenever we go to different cities. It’s a really great thing.

Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs plays for one-night only on Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 8 PM, as part of the Renée Fleming VOICES series at The Kennedy Center’s  Concert Hall – 2700 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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One Response to Who’s in Town?: Alan Cumming Discusses His Upcoming Cabaret Show ‘Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs’ at The Kennedy Center on April 29th

  1. Carolyn M Kelemen April 18, 2017 at 6:02 pm #

    Saw this show in Key West and was blown away by the talent of this Scottish sensation who sings silly songs and more.

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