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Alan Cumming challenges toxic rhetoric in his one-man show, ‘Legal Immigrant’

Alan Cumming challenges toxic rhetoric in his one-man show, ‘Legal Immigrant’
In Alan Cumming's latest one-man show "Legal Immigrant," which will take place at the Musco Center for the Arts in Orange on April 17, he delves into stories about his Scottish heritage, his grandfather and father, and his decision to make the U.S. his home. (Photo courtesy of Alan Cumming and Musco Center for the Arts)

Alan Cumming wears a multitude of hats — actor, writer, singer, style icon and social activist — making him something of an all-around Renaissance man.

Along the way, the star of stage and screen became a U.S. citizen, something he proudly relates in his new one-man cabaret show “Legal Immigrant.”

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“I believe if you’re anti-immigration then you’re actually anti-American because America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants,” Cumming said. “And [America] is as strong and beautiful and hopeful as it is because of the people who have come here and made it their home.”

The show, which unfolds for one performance only on April 17 at Musco Center in Orange, is a cabaret of songs, stories and anecdotes. But it also contains social commentary that Cumming hopes will affect the generally toxic rhetoric now surrounding immigration.

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Cumming obtained American citizenship in 2008, and he uses his own journey to becoming a citizen to remind audiences that America is a country shaped by the rich diversity of those who arrive here from other lands.

“About a year ago the U.S. government immigration service’s website removed the phrase ‘a nation of immigrants’ from its website,” Cumming said. “That shocked me and kind of made me want to make the show a celebration of immigration.”

In Alan Cumming's "Legal Immigrant," he will perform popular songs interwoven with stories about his life at the Musco Center for the Arts in Orange on April 17.
In Alan Cumming's "Legal Immigrant," he will perform popular songs interwoven with stories about his life at the Musco Center for the Arts in Orange on April 17. (Photo courtesy of Alan Cumming and Musco Center for the Arts)

Cumming said he devised the show’s title because “I feel it doesn’t really matter what prefix you put before the word ‘immigrant’ — the word itself has become tarnished.”

He calls “Legal Immigrant” “a true cabaret smörgasbord of genres and styles and topics.”

The show includes Cumming’s performances of music, such as the Scottish folk ballad “Caledonia,” Walter Marks’s “The Singer,” and a medley from the Disney films “Moana” and “Frozen,” interwoven with stories about his life

Cumming created the show last year, debuting it at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, followed by shows around America in concert halls.

“Legal Immigrant” then landed in New York City for two weeks at the Carlyle Hotel’s famed Café Carlyle — but each night after the show, Cumming would reconvene downtown at Joe’s Pub, where he did a repeat midnight performance.

Though exhausted doing two shows per night, Cumming said he wanted to do the show in two very different spaces — a cabaret dinner space, then a downtown pub — to make it accessible for those on a budget since “my friends can’t afford the Café Carlyle.”

Alan Cumming performed his cabaret show "Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs With Friends" at Carnegie Hall on February 8, 2016.
Alan Cumming performed his cabaret show "Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs With Friends" at Carnegie Hall on February 8, 2016. (Photo by TrÃ)

His work as a live performer has been said to straddle three realms: traditional theater, camp and cabaret. It’s that third category that has given rise to Cumming’s career as a solo cabaret performer.

The first one-man plays he created, wrote and performed were “I Bought a Blue Car Today” and “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs.”

But this show, he said, is different because it’s a lot more “personal” – specifically, his descriptions of his Scottish heritage, his grandfather and father, and his decision to make the U.S. his home.

In recent years the actor has been coming to terms with his early years in Scotland. His 2015 autobiography “Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir” detailed his path from contending with emotional and physical abuse inflicted upon him by his father to attaining worldwide stardom — issues he recounts in “Legal Immigrant.”

After Musco Center, Cumming will bring “Legal Immigrant” to a few more California venues, then move on to Florida and Maryland before returning to New York.

IF YOU GO

What: “Legal Immigrant”

Where: Musco Center for the Arts, Chapman University, 415 North Glassell St., Orange

When: 7:30 p.m. April 17

Cost: $40-$85

Information: (844) 626-8726, muscocenter.org

Eric Marchese is a contributor to TimesOC.

For more news and features about Orange County, visit TimesOC.com or follow us on Twitter @timesocofficial.

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