LIVE: Alan Cumming @ Universal Preservation Hall, 6/18/15

June 25th, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg

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Story by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Richard Lovrich

“My name is Alan Cumming, and I’m here to sing you some sappy songs,” said the Scottish-American actor at the start of his cabaret performance at the Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs.

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Cumming had just ripped off his grey suit coat, revealing that his black button-down underneath was really a muscle shirt missing sleeves, making some in the audience laugh.

You didn’t quite know what you would get from the raffish performer – known mostly for his Tony Award-winning role as the pan-sexual emcee on Broadway in “Cabaret” and his role as Eli Gold on CBS-TV’s award-winning dramatic series “The Good Wife.” During the course of his 80-minute Saratoga performance – a deft mix of song and storytelling – that unpredictability and range was part of his charm.

It was a rare cabaret performance by Cumming, who was accompanied by his long-time musical director Lance Horne on piano. Cumming was there to raise funds for the Orchard Project, a theater incubator that moved to Saratoga Springs for the month of June after eight summers in the Catskills. Some of the Orchard Project artists developing new shows in residency were seated up in the balcony – all told they worked on 28 different theater projects during their stay in the city.

And, yes, Cumming started out singing some sappy pop songs, including Annie Lennox’s “Why” and Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” as well as inspirational ballads like Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.” (“That’s the first time Miley Cyrus has ever been performed in a restored church,” Cumming joked.)

The pop songs were inspired, he said, by his time spent DJing at “Club Cumming,” a make-shift nightclub that he hosted many nights in his “Cabaret” dressing room at Studio 54. (Once the famous disco spot, the building now houses television studios and the Roundabout Theater Company.) The celebrity-packed after-parties became so popular that they even had their own liquor sponsor, Cumming noted.

But he also got serious (a bit) when talking about his granddad who suffered from PTSD after serving in World War II and later died mysteriously in Malaysia, from playing a game of Russian roulette, it turns out. He followed the anecdote with Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon.” But Cumming immediately returned to his bawdier side to perform a humorous song he wrote for a condom commercial.

Although most of the night was about humor and levity, Cumming did allow peeks into his deeper emotional side; he poured so much into his moving performances of the Scottish anthem “Mother Glasgow” and Rufus Wainwright’s ode to domestic dysfunction, “Dinner at Eight” – which Cumming prefaced by mentioning his unhappy childhood at the hands of his violent father – that he wiped away genuine tears after the songs were over.

The Orchard Project Presents Performance Series concludes this weekend with an invitation-only closing cabaret on Friday (June 26) and a free shadow puppetry workshop and open rehearsal at 3pm on Saturday (June 27) open to the public.

Meanwhile, Alan Cumming will kick off the summer season of Bard College’s Spiegeltent in Annandale-On-Hudson with two shows – 6 & 8:30pm – on Friday, July 3, accompanied by pianist Lance Horn and cellist Eleanor Norton. NOTE: Both performances are sold-out; limited standing room available on a first-come, first-served basis one hour prior to curtain.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Steve Barnes’ story at The Times Union

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