Just like the mercurial emcee character he famously played in the West End and Broadway production of the musical Cabaret in the 1990s, Alan Cumming is hard to pin down. The Scottish thespian, writer, singer, and activist swings between wildly different personas on stage and screen -- from the vicious anti-hero Mac the Knife in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera to a drag queen party promoter in The L Word television series. Beyond performance, he's done everything from campaigned for Scottish independence to create his own line of perfumes.
With his touring cabaret act, however, Cumming is intent on drawing out his sentimental side. Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs comes to San Francisco's Castro Theatre for one night on Thursday, Jul. 30. It's the artist's third such foray into cabaret. (His previous two song-infused, solo shows -- I Bought A Blue Car Today and Uncut -- both toured the country and made pit-stops in San Francisco).
Featuring intensely personal songs like "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus and Annie Lennox's "Why," Sappy Songs got storming reviews when it played at New York's ritzy Cafe Carlyle last year. The New York Times called it an "emotional firestorm," while The Guardian said of the artist, "everything he did seemed to be designed to make the cafe’s patrons clutch their pearls."
KQED caught up with Cumming while he was in production for After Louie, an upcoming feature film about contemporary gay life in the wake of the AIDS epidemic.