Center Presents: Alan Cumming and Ari Shapiro: Och & Oy! A Considered Cabaret

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The Palladium // Saturday, Feb 3, 8 p.m. ET

Alan Cumming (Cabaret, The Good Wife) and Ari Shapiro (Pink Martini, NPR’s All Things Considered) are both known for transporting audiences to other worlds through their stories. Now, they’re joining forces in song. Witness the Palladium debut of their new evening of tunes and tall tales, with musical direction by Henry Koperski.

Don’t miss this collaboration of talent and tales, get your tickets at thecenterpresents.org!

Janelle Morrison: Thank you both for carving out time to speak with me about your upcoming show! Getting right into the meat of it, how important is it for people to come together in their communities and come out to support shows such as yours? 

Alan Cumming: It is really important for us to come together as human beings, in a room, all listening to the same thing, all laughing, and sort of reconnecting with each other. I know that’s what Ari and I both love about this show … that connection that you get. Never mind what we say … it’s the act of coming out and being in a group of people, ready to experience live theater happening right in front of you. That is an important nurturing kind of thing to do together. I feel, more and more nowadays, we are so isolated in our homes, phones, screens and pods.

Ari Shapiro: One of the most satisfying things about this show has been getting messages from strangers and audience members, after the show, who reach out on social media and they say, “I didn’t realize how much I needed to laugh” or “I didn’t realize how much I needed to forget about what’s going on the world for an evening and just have a great time.” Our show has meaningful moments, but I think the best thing we can do for people right now is to allow them to exhale, sit back and have a great time.

JM: I read that after a few interviews and encounters between you two, Alan approached you, Ari, about collaborating on a show together. Each of you comes from what, on the surface, appears to be polar opposite backgrounds, and yet, there is a powerful and authentic chemistry between the two of you, and it resonates with your audiences. 

Ari: One of the reasons why I love doing the show is because I have a great time with Alan. The two of us have a ball on the stage. We make each other laugh, and we surprise each other every night. We create something new with the audience every time, even though the show follows the same arc from night to night. If we can give people a chance to just be silly and enjoy themselves, I think that’s the best possible use of our talents.

Alan: It’s a very fun evening, but we also talk about serious things, and we come from different points of view. The show’s called “Och & Oy!” because one of us is Scottish and one is Jewish. I think the authenticity and vulnerability of our storytelling is what people connect to most. It’s two people sharing their lives and experiences, and it’s very heartening. It’s been great and so fun for both us and the audience.

JM: What was the process like when deciding what the show would look like and how you would showcase the myriad of talents you both possess?

 Alan: We are sort of an oddball couple because we seem very different, and it was kind of a, “Let’s do a show about opposites and then show people that we actually have a lot more in common than people think.” We’ve gone through alot of the same things, and we’re storytellers who tell their stories in different ways. The start of it [creating the show] was us singing songs, throwing out some ideas and then we got our musical director Henry [Koperski] involved. We’re very different, and very opposite in many ways, but that’s what makes the show fun because we are kind of a kooky duo.

Ari: Alan and I have each developed a name for ourselves in different worlds. People tune into NPR expecting me to deliver an authoritative account of what happened that day, and people go to an Alan Cumming’s show or watch him in a movie expecting to be transported someplace else. What we’ve realized is that, fundamentally, the two of us are doing the same thing, which is we are telling stories and creating connections. Our show contains the best kind of deep, thoughtful and insightful moments that you might get from public radio, along with the entertaining, escapist musical numbers that you might hope to get from a great Alan Cumming’s show. When put together, I’ve never seen a show quite like this, and that seems to be what audiences resonate with.

In this show, Alan and I show up as our full selves. We don’t censor ourselves or fade into the background the way that he might fade into a character that he plays, or I might take a backseat to the news in my journalism. It is a show for grown-ups, and there are jokes that are not very child-friendly.

JM: Alan, in addition to this show, what are some things that you are working on or that you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?

Alan: I don’t have a bucket list. If you really want to do something, just go do it in case you die tomorrow. I think it’s a waste of time if you’re yearning for something in the future. It’s like you’re looking ahead and you’re missing what’s in front of you in the present. So, I don’t look at life like that. I know I’m very eclectic, and I stay open to stuff to see what comes up.

JM: Ari, you have these two lives: entertainer and journalist. You have a serious side to your work, but then you have this creative side where you get to let loose. How do you balance those? 

Ari: Each one feeds into the other. The journalism that I do informs, and the performances that I do with Alan or Pink Martini, refills the gas tank for me to go back into the newsroom and cover the news everyday. They’re different forms of storytelling and connecting with the audience. And even though they seem different on the surface fundamentally, I think they’re the same project of helping people understand themselves, each other and the world that we live in.