Need to Know: Marti Gould Cummings
By Dustin Fitzharris
In the summer of 2005 a farm boy from Maryland named Marti Gould Cummings moved to New York City to pursue his passion for musical theater. Soon he was hosting shows at the Duplex, a cabaret bar in Greenwich Village, in beautiful dresses and heels -- while still looking very much like a man.
Two years ago, after Proposition 8 passed in California, Cummings felt it was time to give people in the theater community an opportunity to speak out for equality and created Broadway Speaks OUT, an online talk show in support of the LGBT rights movement. Liza, Bette, and Rosie are just a few of the performers who've already chatted with Cummings. Now at 23, after being featured on 30 Rock and in the off-Broadway musical Twist, Cummings is preparing to perform There's Nothing Like a Dame, his solo debut concert at the Duplex, which is being billed as the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but with a twist.
Out caught up with Cummings to talk about his new show, the woman he'd go straight for, and what he'd say to Michelle Obama if he were given the chance.
Out: In your solo debut show you will be performing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, but with a twist. Why did you pick Rodgers and Hammerstein?
Marti Gould Cummings: I picked them because I feel a lot of the shows that I've seen recently are all so contemporary. It's pop and rock and hip-hop and all sorts of things. I think it's amazing because it's showing how progressive the theater world is, but I think it's fun to give a throw back to the people who really revolutionized musical theater to begin with, which I think are Rodgers and Hammerstein and the Gershwins.
Then what's the twist?
I do androgynous and gender-bending. Not full drag. I thought it would be funny and kind of different to do a different interpretation of the songs. When I sing 'There's Nothing Like a Dame,' it's not me singing about a girl; I'm singing about me.
If you don't do drag, what would you call it when you go on stage in a dress?
I guess the best description of [me] is gender nonconformist. Sometimes in my real life when I'm not performing I like to put on a pair of heels for fun. I think clothing is a man-made material and object, so I don't think it should be limited to gender. If I like it, I wear it. When I perform I feel more comfortable in a glittery dress than I do a tie.
You are taking your act on the road. How do you think it will go over in Columbus, Ohio?
Oh my god, I hope it goes over well! I've done national tours and performed in musical theater productions, but I was playing a character. Now I'm going to be an alter ego -- a heightened version of myself -- a boy in a dress. I don't know what Columbus will be like. I hope it's a positive experience, but if not, it will be a learning experience.
Who are your inspirations?
Performance-wise, Justin Bond is my greatest influence. I kind of model myself a lot after Justin. Now we know each other, which is fantastic. I'm always like, 'Hi, I need advice.'
Is he a Facebook friend?
He is a Facebook friend! Of course he is!
Who else inspires you?
My inspiration for my LGBT activism would be Yetta Kurland. She ran for city council in 2009 in New York. She's really influenced my political side.
Recently you did a photo shoot in the middle of Times Square wearing a ball gown. What was that experience like?
[Laughs] It was something! I felt like a Real Housewife of New Jersey. This dress is like a mix between Scarlett O' Hara and an '80s prom dress. I got it at a Goodwill in Delaware. It's wrinkly and faded, but I think it's beautiful. Some people were saying some derogatory things and other people were fascinated or scared. Kids were staring. They had never seen anything like it. Some people came up and asked to take pictures with me. I was like, 'Yes! Yes! Take my picture! Do it! I'll be on your Facebook page!'
What is the biggest misconception about you?
Ah! I don't know. I think most people who aren't my close friends only see me when I'm in my version of drag and because I don't wear wigs or do a lot of makeup, it's really heightened, but downplayed at the same time. I think the biggest misconception is that people are confused as to what I am. A lot of people ask me if I'm transitioning. I have many transgender friends, but that's not the case for me. I just love what I wear.
Michael Musto said you are the love child of Liza Minnelli and Johnny Weir. What do you think of that statement?
I loved it! I love Johnny Weir, but anytime I'm compared to Liza Minnelli, my heart swoons. If I wasn't the love child of Liza, I'd settle for Lorna Luft.