Though host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered since 2015, Ari Shapiro is far from having a face made for radio.
The journalist will take to the stage on Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. the Kimmel Cultural Campus’s Merriam Theater, joining actor and performer Alan Cumming in “Och and Oy: A Considered Cabaret.”
A departure from his usual reporting, but a return to Shapiro’s long love of stage performance, “Och and Oy” is a nod to Shapiro’s Jewish roots and Cumming’s Scottish ones.
Shapiro describes the cabaret as having “some of the thoughtful conversations that you would expect from a public radio broadcast, as well as the kind of entertaining song and dance numbers that you would expect from an Alan Cumming show.”
The one-night show also underlines the return of in-person performances for the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ 2021-2022 season, which began on Sept. 18.
“What you have with Alan Cumming and Ari Shapiro is one of those combinations where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” said Matías Tarnopolsky, incoming president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc.
The duo has known each other since 2014, when Shapiro met Cumming backstage of the “Cabaret” Broadway revival in which Shapiro’s friend was performing. Cumming played the show’s Emcee.
The two developed a friendship over the next five years until the idea for “Och and Oy” was conceived in 2019.
“Over the course of several years, our paths continued to cross,” Shapiro said. “And then one day, Alan said, ‘You know, you and I should make a show together,’ and we have.”
A journalist with NPR for more than 20 years, Shapiro is used to asking the questions and spotlighting his interview subject. Being the subject of his own show, he learned to “use a different muscle set.”
Shapiro took cues from Cumming, whom Shapiro believes demonstrates the vulnerability he stays away from in public radio, but hopes to embody onstage.
Shapiro insists that he wanted to pursue the opportunity to perform in his own cabaret show because he wanted to continue to grow outside of NPR. Along the way, Cumming has taught Shapiro some unexpected lessons.
“Alan has taught me that sometimes the things that are a little ragged around the edges, the things that are unexpected, the things that don’t go the way you had planned, are actually the best, most delightful moments,” Shapiro said.
Rather than thinking about bearing his soul to a large audience, Shapiro instead thinks about confiding in Cumming, whom he considers a friend, during “Och & Oy” performances, where Shapiro tells stories of himself growing up.
“Friends have sometimes asked if it’s intimidating — sharing the stage with somebody as accomplished as Alan,” Shapiro said. “And the truth is, it’s the opposite because Alan is so good at what he does.”
Though Cumming is a veteran of the stage, Shapiro is no stranger to performing.
Shapiro remembered attending plays with his parents growing up, where he was enraptured by the worlds the performers created on stage for the audience to live in for the duration of the show.
He made his theater debut at a Jewish Community Center summer theater camp in Portland, Oregon, not far from Beaverton, Oregon, where he grew up.
Since 2009, Shapiro has periodically performed with the band Pink Martini, becoming versatile in singing in multiple languages.
Yet “Och and Oy” is much different than his time in Pink Martini, Shapiro said.
“As a guest performer who shows up and sings a song or a couple of songs, getting to tour with [Pink Martini] is an experience like summer camp,” Shapiro said. “Creating the show with Alan was building something from scratch — collaboratively — just the two of us and our musical director, Henry Koperski, then watching it come to fruition, creating it on stage, night-after-night.”
Though “Och and Oy” was originally scheduled for the Kimmel Cultural Campus in October 2020, little has changed about the show’s content over the pandemic.
Early this summer, when Shapiro and Cumming reunited after a year-and-a-half apart to perform “Och and Oy” once more, they tweaked the show to incorporate the ongoing pandemic, but with little success.
They ultimately decided to not include the pandemic in the show.
“We realized that was not what people wanted and, in fact, people have spent their lives for more than a year now consumed with dire, depressing news,” Shapiro said. “What this show can provide is something delightful and surprising and refreshing
Tickets for “Och and Oy: A Considered Cabaret” are available at kimmelculturalcampus.org/.