Visit MaineToday's profile on Pinterest.

About The Author

mainetoday

Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

Send an email | Read more from Ray







Posted: February 15, 2017

Alan Cumming plays himself in a cabaret-style show of “sappy songs” and stories

Written by: Ray Routhier
Alan Cumming at Carnegie Hall Photo by Tré

Alan Cumming at Carnegie Hall
Photo by Tré

Alan Cumming seems surprised that he sings so much.

He’s always sung, in drama school, in plays, but he didn’t set out to be a singer. He grew up on an estate in Scotland, where his father was a forester, and he wanted to be an actor.

He did become an actor, a very accomplished one, appearing in dozens of films and TV shows over the last 25 years. His American accent while playing a political consultant on the CBS drama “The Good Wife” is so good, most fans don’t know he’s Scottish. He’s also been in a couple musicals, winning a Tony on Broadway as the sinister master of ceremonies in “Cabaret.”

But like most people, things happen to Cumming. He deals with them by writing about them, as he did in his 2014 memoir “Not My Father’s Son,” and now by singing about them in his touring musical show “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs.” The show is a mix of old standards, show tunes, little-known songs, stories and Top 40 pop songs. Cumming said the songs and stories help him cope with the various traumas and struggles of his life. Portland Ovations will present Cumming’s show on Saturday at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.

Here’s Alan Cumming singing the Keane song “Somewhere Only We Know”

“I’ve always sung a little bit, in drama school, but it was never something I did in a big way. I’ve only been in two musicals,” said Cumming, 52. “I don’t think I have a great voice. People come to hear me put my imprint on these songs, songs I’ve chosen because they fit with the mood of things I’ve dealt with. I am me, there is no character for me to play.”

Cumming first made a big impression with his singing in the London revival of “Cabaret” in 1993. He played the emcee of a seedy cabaret club in Berlin in the early 1930s, as the Nazi party’s power was growing. The role was originally played on Broadway in the 1960s by Joel Grey, who won a Tony.

Cumming played the emcee again in the 1998 Broadway revival of “Cabaret” and won the Tony himself. In 2009, Cumming was asked to perform in the “American Songbook Series” at Lincoln Center in New York. He called his show “I Bought A Blue Car Today” because that was the sentence he said he used on his American naturalization test to prove his command of the English language. Cumming said before that show, he had some fear of singing out of character. But he “really enjoyed the experience of playing myself,” and the fear went away. Now, he says, he has “a whole new career” of doing concerts as himself.

Cumming launched his “Sappy Songs” show in 2015 in New York City and has since toured the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. During his shows, Cumming talks about his memoir, which contains a lot of the various struggles Cumming has dealt with. He writes in the memoir about his physically and psychologically abusive father. As an adult, he didn’t speak to his father for years. Around 2010, when Cumming was about to appear on a British TV show where people explore their roots, the man Cumming knew as his father said he wasn’t. Cumming was then faced with the idea that his father had treated him cruelly because he thought Cumming was another man’s son. Cumming later took a DNA test and found out he was his father’s son after all.

So what kind of songs help Cumming deal with these types of things? Sappy songs, as the title of his show suggests. Emotional songs that you can sing your heart out to. Reviewers have written that Cumming has picked such recent pop hits as “Firework” by Katy Perry and “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga to perform. He’s also done “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. But he pokes fun at the pop songs on stage as well.

He’s also included mash-ups of Stephen Sondheim tunes from various shows and Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon.” He recorded an album of his show, “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at The Cafe Carlyle” which includes 27 tracks, more than 10 of which are stories.

“It’s a pretty eclectic mix,” Cumming said. “I love all the songs.”

Though Cumming says he enjoys singing as himself, he has a long resume as an actor who loses himself, and his Scottish accent, in a character. He’s been in comedies like “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” indie films like “The Anniversary Party” and was a funny villain in the “Spy Kids” adventure film series. He’s also voiced a Smurf in two Smurf movies.

Besides acting and singing, Cumming has been active in helping various civil rights and sex education causes. He’s won humanitarian awards from the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) among others.

Though pleasant on the phone for this interview, Cumming clearly doesn’t like to repeat himself or answer dumb questions. On his website there is a very thorough Q-and-A where he answers the kinds of questions reporters love to ask, like, “do you prefer acting on stage or screen?”

“That is a really boring question. But the answer is, as you might have gathered from my resume, I like both. If, however, in the unlikely event that I had a gun to my head, I would choose the stage as I love the immediate connection with the audience.”

And the best chance for Mainers to experience that connection is coming right up, at his Portland show.


ALAN CUMMING SINGS SAPPY SONGS

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Merill Audtorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $45 to $70
INFO: Portlandovations.org

Up Next: