The summer-evening streets of Kennebunkport were abuzz this weekend with whispers of “Alan’s here.”

On Friday and Saturday, actor and singer Alan Cumming took the stage for the first time at his summer residency in Kennebunkport, Club Cumming on the Coast, modeled after his New York City cabaret bar. The 15-week schedule began Memorial Day weekend, with the initial plan to end on Labor Day, but it has since been extended through October.

Club Cumming on the Coast converts the modest deck at The Burleigh, the restaurant at the Kennebunkport Inn, into a small stage and dining area, illuminated by strands of twinkling lights and adorned with ornate red-and-gold trinkets, the trademark “Club Cumming” neon sign and a simple upright piano.

Inspired by Manhattan jazz clubs and reminiscent of Rick’s Cafe Americain in “Casablanca,” the stage feels as through it’s been transported from another time and place to the charming heart of Kennebunkport, where it overlooks the water.

The size of the stage could have created problems for some entertainers, but Club Cumming’s performers are no strangers to small venues. The New York City location maxes out at 100 patrons and the Maine one at about half that – and intentionally so.

Producer and performer EJ Garlands said the goal is to make the shows feel like a gathering among friends. The setup, which Garlands calls “a second living room,” fosters a cozy and intimate connection between the audience and the performers. “The goal is to create a performance that is not transactional, but interactional,” he said, explaining that the audience plays a key role in setting the tone for each show.

Returning from a tour of his cabaret in Australia, Cumming was joined by longtime friend and NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro. The renowned stage and screen actor and prominent journalist seemed an unlikely pair, but Shapiro explained, “Alan and I realized we have a lot more in common than you might think. We both tell stories and connect with audiences, but just by different mediums.”

Alan Cumming and NPR host Ari Shapiro share the small stage at the Kennebunkport Inn. Photo courtesy of Navadise Media

Together, Cumming and Shapiro crafted an entertaining evening, showcasing their shared and individual talents for song and story. Shapiro sang alongside the seasoned vocalist, reprising tunes from his work with Oregon-based band Pink Martini. The acoustics allowed for Cumming and Shapiro’s voices, and the trill of Henry Koperski’s piano, to fill the space.

They took turns leading a patriotic rendition of the Scottish national anthem, an emphatic cover of Kristen Chenoweth’s “Taylor the Latte Boy” and a rousing audience sing-along of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Between songs, the pair engaged in conversations more akin to Shapiro’s work with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” sharing their experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community in the public eye. Cumming recalled hiding his sexuality from his abusive father, explaining that it was one thing he wouldn’t give his abuser the power to take or control. “It was for mine, it was for me,” Cumming said, adding that his eventual decision to come out was a statement to the world saying, “I reject shame.”

Shapiro recounted his marriage to Michael Gottlieb in 2004, and his fears that his career would be in jeopardy as footage of their ceremony began to circulate tirelessly throughout mainstream media.

Cumming and Shapiro also told amusing anecdotes from their careers, like how an impromptu dinner party led to Shapiro joining Pink Martini, a band he had idolized. Scottish-born Cumming talked about interactions with Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the late Sean Connery, complete with a convincing impression. The setlist never felt forced or rehearsed, likely because little of it was.

To cope with any unforeseen challenges the outdoor setting could cause, the performances are designed to be organic, allowing the stars to riff off any unexpected variables that might otherwise have interrupted the show. “At each performance, you will hear the same songs and the same stories, but you will never see the same show,” Garlands said.

The duo expertly adapted to the circumstances, stopping to greet a butterfly that briefly fluttered around them and grumbling at a plane that dared to fly overhead. Even on the occasion of a forgotten lyric or a missed beat, Cumming and Shapiro made light of their mistakes, contributing to their comedy.

From start to finish, the act was a colorful celebration of individuality, an offering of an optimistic perspective on the post-pandemic days ahead and a much needed source of light and laughter for now.

Milena Calcagni is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in southern Maine.


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