Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs

Actor, singer, author, raconteur, quite the outspoken activist (when he gets going, as he often does) and gloriously naughty boy Alan Cumming’s much-beloved show seems oddly titled.

Many of the songs he performs aren’t exactly sappy, although chances are ‘Alan Cumming Sings All Sorts Of Songs, From Cerebral To Camp’ is too much of a mouthful and wouldn’t fit on a marquee. However, sappy or not, his chosen tunes are done with such gusto, such raunch and emotion and fire and glee, that it hardly matters, and a brilliant time was had by all.

After his three-piece backing band took their places, Cumming then hit the stage and, without a word, launched into a very cool version of Annie Lennox’s Why, with introductions and explanations coming later. Rocking a pair of black leather pants, an armless black shirt and an ‘80s-looking black leather tie, he then alternated between a decidedly eclectic series of tunes interspersed with all manner of anecdotes, some nostalgic and autobiographical and some deliciously rude and saucy.

After knocking off Miley Cyrus’ The Climb (“You didn’t think you’d be hearing Miley Cyrus, now did you?”), Cumming got into some show-bizzy talk, but this was cut short by introducing the subject of PTSD, which led to a powerful rendition of Billy Joel’s Goodnight Saigon and, in memory of his abusive Dad (see his fairly devastating but bestselling memoir Not My Father’s Son), Rufus Wainwright’s Dinner At Eight.

Much was made of a triple-header travelogue of tunes (Michael Marra’s Mother Glasgow, Jean Renoir’s La Compainte De La Butte/Princess Of The Streets and some savage Brecht and Weill), but soon we were also into Avril Lavinge’s Complicated (!), a hilarious medley of Adele, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry called Someone On The Edge Of Firework, and a quick and cutting Sondheim mash-up dubbed No One Is Alive While I’m Around.

We kept stopping for him to tell tales about: hanging out with Barry Humphries on the set of an X-Men sequel; a “shagging supernova” of a failed relationship that left him with an embarrassing groin tattoo; his turns on Broadway in the hugely acclaimed Cabaret and the not-so-hugely-acclaimed The Threepenny Opera (a review of which commented on his “junk” as visible through extremely tight pants); and a throwaway giggle about how his youthful looks are attributable to monkey sperm.

Another Billy Joel tune (And So It Goes) supposedly ended the evening, but he mocked the whole idea of the fake encore and raced back out in seconds, martini in hand, and got stuck into Noël Coward’s venomous The Ladies Who Lunch. After that it really was the end, sadly.

One of the jewels in the crown of this year’s Cabaret Festival, this left the delighted crowd wanting more of the night’s star, more songs and much, much more sap.

Alan Cumming performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Sunday, June 11 at 8pm

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