BWW Review: Celebrity Series of Boston Presents ALAN CUMMING SINGS SAPPY SONGS
Celebrity Series of Boston Presents Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
Friday, October 6, 2017, @ 8 pm, at Sanders Theatre, Memorial Hall, Harvard University, 45 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA; Celebrity Series of Boston, Gary Dunning, President and Executive Director; 617-482-2595 or www.celebrityseries.org
Alan Cumming, vocals
Lance Horne, piano/music director
Eleanor Norton, cello
Darcy Macrae, drums
Alan Cumming is a man of many talents and achievements, and, therefore, is known to a variety of audiences. As a theater artist, he has won Tony and Olivier awards, and his television work has garnered him multiple Golden Globe, Emmy, and SAG award nominations. However, he does not fit into any simple categorization as an actor, recording artist, or musical theater performer. In his touring show Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, he displays an eclectic array of entertaining abilities, including singing, movement, and story-telling, and proves to be a loquacious bon vivant.
In a program just shy of two hours in Memorial Hall at Sanders Theatre on Friday evening, Cumming performed about a dozen selections, and spent big chunks of time to set up each song with a story. The diversity of music included covers of songs by singers ranging from Miley Cyrus to Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne to Adele, and Billy Joel to Stephen Sondheim. Despite his success on the Great White Way, Cumming mostly eschewed Broadway tunes in favor of pop music that he relates to personally, showing a stunning capacity to make each one sound like it was his own. He was joined onstage by his Music Director Lance Horne on piano and background vocals, Eleanor Norton on cello, and, new to his trio, Darcy Macrae on drums.
Cumming's stories feature a roster of celebrity names, occasionally giving them a gossipy-quality, but he insists that everything he says from the stage is true, and he didn't give away any big secrets. A fun anecdote involved his relationship with Liza Minnelli ("I love Liza, everybody loves Liza") and how she helped him to overcome his fear of performing in the cabaret format. As he stated, he is an actor, not a singer, and accustomed to submerging himself into a character. Liza's advice was to think of a song like a play, with a structure and a character, and figure out how to play that role. According to Cumming, that changed how he looked at doing a concert and enabled him to be comfortable when he is just up there as himself.
While this performance is a Celebrity Series debut for Cumming, he has been touring with Sings Sappy Songs in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK. He premiered the cabaret show in 2015 at New York's Cafe Carlyle and, in 2016, returned with the show to New York to make his solo debut at a sold out Carnegie Hall. What makes the show work is a combination of Cumming's personality, his lack of pretense, his willingness to be vulnerable in his songs and stories, the quality of his voice, and the incredible musicianship of his accompanying trio. He also just happens to be a delightful host with a knack for making the audience feel comfortable and entertained. Although Broadway songs were not prominently featured in the set list, his encore was a pair of Elaine Stritch tunes, "If Love Were All" and "Ladies Who Lunch." It is always intriguing to me when an artist performs a song normally reserved for the opposite gender, and Cumming's cheeky personality came shining through in the finale. Martini glass raised in salute, belting out "Rise, rise, rise," it was not hard to imagine the smile on Stritch's face in the great white way beyond.