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BWW INTERVIEWS: Alan Cumming Brings One-Man Show to Orange County, Sept. 26

COSTA MESA, CA — Alan Cumming is your typical overachieving multi-hyphenate: He is a powerful stage actor, both in musicals and plays. He disappears magically into his characters, whether on film and television. And later this month, he will be making his U.S. West Coast debut at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with his one-man cabaret Alan Cumming: I Bought A Blue Car Today. The show earned rave reviews in New York, Sydney and London; and now his unique musical stylings will be on display during two shows at the Samueli Theater on September 26, 2009. His debut solo album that is a companion piece to the show will be released in stores and online on September 22.

Accompanied by his musical director, Lance Horne, Cumming will offer up his favorite tunes from the past 10 years of his life in America. In between songs, he will offer up poignant anecdotes from his colorful and fantastic past.

A star of stage and screen, U.S. film audiences were first introduced to Cumming in Circle of Friends, and he went on to appear in many varied films including Bryan Singer's X2:X Men United, Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids trilogy, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, the James Bond film Goldeneye, Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Julie Taymor's Titus and many more.

On stage, he is best known for his role as the Emcee in the celebrated 1998 Sam Mendes/Rob Marshall revival of CABARET, which earned him Tony®, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. In the Spring of 2010, he is (as of press time) scheduled to don the villainous tights of the Green Goblin in SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK.

Cumming's activism and charity work for civil rights and other causes have earned him several humanitarian awards including two Human Rights Campaign awards, GLAAD's (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) prestigious Vito Russo Media award and The Trevor Project Hero Award. In 2005, he was awarded an Icon of Scotland, and in 2006, received an honorary Doctorate of Arts from the University of Abertay, Dundee. Most recently, he was appointed an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list, which honored his services to film, theater and the arts and to activism for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community.

Last month, while filming a BBC documentary in Berlin, Cumming took a few moments to speak with BroadwayWorld's Michael Lawrence Quintos to talk about his solo concert in Orange County, his upcoming projects (including the much buzzed-about SPIDER-MAN musical), and his work as an equal rights advocate.

BWW-OC: Hi Alan! How are you doing?

Alan: I'm good! A bit tired, though. I've been in Berlin shooting this documentary... The Real Cabaret. We were out at this club last night called Chantal's House of Shame to shoot stuff. It was real exciting!

Wow, that place sounds awesome!  Well, I'd like to thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk about your show I Bought A Blue Car Today that's coming to Orange County! We're very excited that we get to see the west coast debut here. Can you tell me a little bit more about the show? That title is certainly very intriguing!

Well the title is actually the sentence I had to write down to prove my prowess of English, when I took my naturalization test to become an American citizen. Now, the show itself is sort of a collection of songs that I've liked and what I've wanted to perform. Also, the music I've chosen is [comprised of] the songs that I've loved over the 10 or so years since I moved to America.

What kind of music would that be?

I do a range of music, sort of an eclectic mix... from Cyndi Lauper, a song called "Shine" ... a John Bucchino song, a Dory Previn song... a couple of songs I mashed up from HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.... even some original songs. And yes, even a few songs from CABARET. It's a real mixture!

Sounds great! Does the show and the songs follow a sort of narrative order?

It's really very old-fashioned, in a way. It's just me, on stage, talking about my experiences and going from song to song.

Is it going to be different from the earlier incarnations you've previously performed in other cities?

Well, sure, I will probably change it up a bit... take out a song or add in a new one. I think I will probably be tinkering with it as I keep doing it. You know, down the line, there may be other songs that I like that I would bring into it. But generally, it will be the same show that I did in New York and Sydney. And by the time I come to Orange County, I would have done it in London as well. So I'll be coming to you guys direct from the West End!

Cool, we're very honored! With such an eclectic song set, growing up, what kind of music did you like?

Well, growing up, I wasn't really into musicals, or anything like that. I think singers that I really responded to were sort of more emotionally engaged to their songs. I think now, in a way, I relate it to really good acting. I listened to a lot of Scottish folk singers, but I loved a bit of pop as well. But I didn't really like one particular style. You know, again, what I love are people who really connect with a song, that can really come across with emotion. I really liked Kate Bush. I was really into her!

Oh yes! There's this one song of hers that [R&B singer] Maxwell remade years ago that's so beautiful and haunting.

Yes, "This Woman's Work." I love Maxwell! Have you heard his new album?

Oh, yes, it's pretty great. I'm so glad he came back after a long absence! Speaking of new albums, there will also be an accompanying CD to be released in stores before your Center debut. How was that experience, recording those same songs you've performed live first?

Well, I've done some things in the studio over the years, but this is my first record on my own. But I admit it was quite hard for me having to do something that I've very much responded to [with an audience]. So, it's pretty much like acting on your own, as opposed to acting [on stage] and feeling the audience's response. And so, I really got self-conscious, actually. We wanted to have a photographer and a video crew in the studio to shoot some of it, but then I felt... I just couldn't do that. I actually sang all of my songs to the wall. I feel that, to the wall, I could get into it more, as opposed to looking through the glass and then seeing someone behind the boards, you know, licking his nose. [Laughs]

I can understand that. It's really different than getting an immediate response from a live audience.

What I really liked though is the way they mixed the song and hear the different instruments. It was great because I had never really heard [the songs] in the way that we re-arranged them [for the studio versions]. So it was really nice to, you know, go in and add more things musically. I'm really excited to hear this record, actually. I'm really looking forward to it coming out.

And what perfect timing, since the album comes out on September 22, just a few days before you perform in Orange County! Now, because we are BroadwayWorld.com, I can't let you go without congratulating you on the great news that you have been cast to play the Green Goblin in the upcoming SPIDER-MAN musical! How did that come about?

Oh. Well, they just asked me! There was a period there when I just kept getting proposed to with offers... "were you to..." "would you..." "could you consider..." And then I finally got my hands on the script, read it, and... it was funny, my name was on every page of it because, you know, if it ever [leaks] out, security will know who to blame! You had to be watched just walking down the street with it [Laughs]. I just did a film called The Tempest with Julie Taymor at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. She had been talking a lot about it on the set, so I kind of knew a bit about it and who was involved. So, I was really excited to do it. I went into the studio to work with Bono and The Edge, and that was amazing. The music they've done is really amazing.

How are preparations going?

Well, I've gone in for a few costume fittings, and they've done such an amazing job! The costumes were done by Eiko Ishioka. Let me tell you, it's just incredible, especially when I become the full Green Goblin! It's so detailed, so authentic. They are just insane and look really amazing! From some of the drawings and things I've seen... wow. I think it's going to be a huge spectacle!

I bet! Judging from Julie Taymor's film and stage work, I predict a lot of eye-candy on stage, on top of the great music.

Yeah, there will be! It's quite magical and Julie's really good at all that fantasy stuff!

Wow, now I'm really looking forward to it! You were, of course, just marvelous in your Tony®-Award winning role in CABARET. Tell me, are there any other stage roles you'd be interested in taking on?

Let's see... I've always wanted to play John in After Miss Julie. I had opportunity to do that, but it just didn't work out at the time. But I really love that play! Earlier this year I've also done some workshops playing Iago in Othello, so I wouldn't mind doing that role at some point. But you know... it's funny, I've got so many projects of my own that I do, that I like it when people just surprise me with something, you know? I like working on a lot of different things, so it's quite nice to be just handed an idea by somebody else and just say "yes" or "no." So I try not to really lust after lots of roles. And usually the roles I get are completely surprising to me. I quite like that.

Well, aside from your amazing work on film, TV, and, of course, the stage, you are also a vocal activist, especially in regards to civil and equal rights for the GLBT community. Does your activism shape any of your decisions regarding the kinds of projects you take on?

Yeah, I think it does. I think being an activist really shows who you are as a person, and so that shapes what you're working on as well, in a very large, but generalized way. Absolutely, it does. And, you know, that means that on a lot of the work I do, I make myself be inspired by activism. Things like, for example...I just recently did a Trojan condoms commercial with Ricki Lake that I directed with my friend Ned. I always like doing things that are fun to do, but also [projects] that I believe in or feel have things that need to be said. And being able to do the play Bent in London a few years ago, that to me was an incredible piece of activist writing. So it's been exciting to perform work like that, which was for me very personal and very pertinent.

On that subject, can you speak a little bit about how you felt about California's passage of Prop. 8?

Oh, well, I was horrified! I think it's strange that in the midst of jubilation over the victory of Obama over in the East Coast, and then to learn what happened over there... we were like, "What?!" I think you know, in a way, it showed how important it is for an activist organization to be, well, organized. The Obama campaign was so brilliantly run...so innovatively run. It was so "grassroots" and it used the internet well and just galvanized the population. I think the Prop. 8 campaign was not particularly well-run. People were confused. And I think that [affected] the whole population. I think that we as a gay population need to be more galvanized and more politicized. Other civil rights movements understood that they had to reach out to other groups other than themselves to make change.

I think I understand what you mean. I did notice that there were a lot more protests *after* Prop. 8 passed than before the elections even happened.

Exactly.

I'm not sure if you were aware that Orange County is notoriously conservative. Is performing in this environment going to influence how your show will play here? Will adjustments be necessary?

Oh, no! In fact, you know, it will probably make me more racy than I normally would be! [Laughs]. But, I think, if someone is going to come to the show to see me, they're coming to see me and my [kind of] show. I'm not going to change according to where I am or what environment I'm in. I'm very much assured of who I am and what I think. And also, I know that I'm pretty strong-willed. I mean, I might speak about where I am, geographically. But, honestly, if anything, I might just be a bit more... wicked.

Well, I can't wait to see that!

Good, it will be like a gay missionary going into the ... jungle! [Laughs] The Orange County missionary tour!

I'll pass out leaflets! So, besides touring with your one-man show and filming in Europe, what other projects do you have coming out?

I'm doing the show in London, then I'll be there, then in L.A. I've also got several video projects happening. After that I'll be taking the show back to Australia and do some dates there. Let's see... and I'm also going to start work on a documentary about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a great Scotsman! I have a new film called Dare coming in November. And then, of course, SPIDER-MAN.

Wow, a busy, exciting schedule! Well, thank you again for chatting and we look forward to your shows at the Orange County Performing Arts Center!

Yes, I hope to see you there!

Photo by Ned Stresen-Reuter.

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Tickets to see Alan Cumming: I Bought a Blue Car Today are $58 and are available at OCPAC.org, at the Center’s Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa or by calling 714.556.2787. For inquiries about group ticket discounts for 15 or more, call the Group Services office at 714.755.0236. The TTY number is 714.556.2746.

Two performances on September 26, 2009: 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in Samueli Theater.

Mercedes-Benz USA is the Premier Sponsor of the Orange County Performing Arts Center’s 2009-2010 Season.

Visit www.ocpac.org for more information. For more information on Alan Cumming, visit his own web portal at www.alancumming.com.


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