Alan Cumming
(© Ned Stresen-Reuter)
Alan Cumming
(© Ned Stresen-Reuter)
Cabaret -- with its many theme shows, autobiographical patter-as-therapy, and "then I wrote" formats -- can sometimes be sadly predictable. But the minute Tony Award winner Alan Cumming takes the stage of Feinstein's at Loews Regency, there's no question that this will be no ordinary show. And indeed, with its often potent and sometimes hilarious mix of song and story, Cumming's act proves to be a proverbial breath of fresh air.

While most performers might warm up the audience, Cumming plants himself on stage and launches into a blazing, take-no-prisoners rendition of Kander & Ebb's "Mein Herr" (a moment made slightly surreal on opening night by the presence of the song's originator, Liza Minnelli). It's a statement, both musically and otherwise, as the openly gay performer repeatedly performs same-sex love songs and talks about his belief in equal rights and gay marriage.

Not surprisingly, Cumming chooses his musical selections -- some of which can be heard on his debut CD I Bought A Blue Car Today -- with an actor's eye, allowing him to put emotion and characterization in the forefront of performance. For example, he transforms -- sans makeup -- into the German transsexual Hedwig (albeit with a slight Scottish accent) for a riveting medley of "Wig in a Box/Wicked Little Town" (The number is preceded by a sweet story about his first -- and yes, chaste -- meeting with Hedwig creator John Cameron Mitchell.)

The many moods of love are deftly explored by Cumming in a variety of songs. In Marcy Heisler's and Zina's Goldrich ever-charming, "Taylor, The Latte Boy," the actor precisely captures the intoxication of infatuation; while in a gorgeous take on William Finn's "What More Can I Say?" and the lovely "Next to Me" (which Cumming co-wrote with his invaluable music director, Lance Horne), Cumming conveys the contentment of being in a successful relationship. Equally effective, if somewhat more surprising, is a passionate medley of Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello's "I Still Have That Other Girl" and Stephen Sondheim's "Losing My Mind," which plays out as a three-minute mini-play.

Even if you come for the tunes -- which also includes Horne's political screed "American" and Cumming's anti-plastic surgery paean, "I Want to See You" -- you might come home humming the tales instead. Cumming is an expert (if occasionally long-winded) raconteur. It may be impossible to ever watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade the same way after hearing the actor's take on being a celebrity participant. His extended anecdotes about performing with Ann Miller at the Hollywood Bowl and preparing to meet Princess Anne to be awarded an OBE -- which has a pricelessly raunchy punchline -- are also practically worth the price of admission.