Having a high cool quotient is a priority these days, especially for celebrities. Few entertainers engage in any activity that might make them appear less hip.
And then there is Alan Cumming, who has no problem taking a risk.
The veteran actor/activist/singer/author is on tour belting out songs that could be dubbed by many as guilty pleasures. The “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs” tour will stop Thursday, April 27, at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Cumming delivers such vulnerable and emotional tunes as Michael Marra’s “Mother Glasgow” and Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes.”
“I love those type of songs,” Cumming says while calling from his New York apartment. “And what you said is on the money. People have a problem letting go. I think now more than ever, people worry about being cool, and that’s a shame. People look at sappy songs like they’re light or tacky, and the songs I present are not light or tacky.
“If you open your heart up to these songs, you’ll be surprised. I was taken aback by these songs. I absolutely love singing ‘And So It Goes.’ It’s such a beautiful song.”
Cumming, 52, made his mark in the United States playing the master of ceremonies in “Cabaret” on Broadway, a part for which he won a Tony Award in 1998. (He returned to the role in 2014). He’s known by film fans for parts in “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and “Spy Kids,” and is beloved by TV fans for playing Eli Gold in the CBS drama “The Good Wife” – he was nominated twice for Emmy Awards for that role.
He started the “Sappy Songs” run two years ago. “I thought I could bring something different to these songs,” Cumming said. “I want these songs to be personal and intense. I connect with the songs and then connect with the audience.”
What’s the biggest surprise he has had on the tour? “I never thought I would sing a Miley Cyrus song in my life,” Cumming reveals. “But I’m doing just that.”
“The Climb,” a clever and catchy Cyrus tune, is part of his eclectic set.
“Part of what makes this work so well is that it’s so varied,” Cumming says. “It’s fun for me since I offer a different spin. Some of the songs I do are overproduced, and I present them in a different manner. What I also offer is an escape from what’s going on in the world.”
Cumming is referring to President Donald Trump, who deeply disturbs the Scottish-born entertainer. “I’m horrified and terrified in equal measure,” Cumming says. “He seems to have so many conflicts of interest to be president. I don’t understand it. If you elect a clown, you’re going to get the circus. It bothers me when I witness what is the dumbing-down of America. The consolation that I have is that I believe the younger generation will be a bit different and more progressive.”
Cumming recently shot the pilot for “Instinct,” which could air next season on CBS. “I love working in television,” Cumming says. “I’m excited about what could possibly happen with this series. I play a professor at Penn State, who was part of the CIA. A serial killer is trying to lure me in. I end up working with the NYPD to capture the serial killer.”
When Cumming isn’t working, he’s traveling.
“I enjoy seeing the world a great deal,” Cumming said. “I work very hard so I love to get away. I love train trips. I just did this amazing train trip in Scotland. It helps recharge my battery for a tour. I may be very busy for awhile since I have these shows, and who knows what will happen with ‘Instinct’? I could be very busy for awhile, but it’s better to be busy than not busy.”