BWW Review: Alan Cumming at Strathmore
There is an old expression in theater about knowing when to shut up and sing. Some performers refuse to subscribe to that theory. If I use Wednesday's concert at the Music Center at Strathmore as a basis, multi-award-winning singer/activist Alan Cumming is - or at least can be or is prone to be - one of those performers.
He took to the stage at Strathmore with one of the more bizarre cabaret (no pun intended) acts I've ever seen entitled Legal Immigrant. Cumming, born and raised in Scotland, has only been a US citizen for about ten years so he has firsthand experience being an immigrant to the United States. Part of the mission of this show was to raise awareness of the US' history of immigration, the contribution immigrants have and do provide, and maybe advocate for a little (to put it lightly) reform to current policies - but more about that later.
I actually thought this was going to be a really good show when Cumming took to the stage and his excellent quartet of musicians - musical director Lance Horne on piano, cellist Eleanor Norton, drummer Chris Jego (who doubles on guitar) and trumpeter Riley Mulherkar - started playing. The opener was a medley of "The Singer" (made famous by Liza Minnelli) and three Stephen Sondheim-penned songs, "Old Friends," "Not a Day Goes By." and "Losing My Mind." How can you beat Liza and Sondheim?
Other vocal highlights from the evening included a love letter to his homeland called "Caledonia" and a medley of "How Far I'll Go" and "Part of Your World" from Disney's Moana and The Little Mermaid, respectively. A little bit of "Let It Go" from Frozen was also included for good measure.
My favorite song though was written by Lance Horne. "Last Day on Earth" basically asks the question, "what if it was your last day on earth?" Here, Cumming showed us how brilliant a performer he can be with one potent and moving song.
Unfortunately, between all the wonderful vocals by Mr. Cumming were what sometimes felt like political rants about immigration and constant swipes on our current US President and Commander In Chief. Now look, I am not, nor will I ever be, a fan of #45 and I understand being an immigrant himself how Alan Cumming is very angry about the plight of immigrants - legal or otherwise - in this country. Even if Cumming wanted to make these statements - and to be clear, he has every right to - then the question becomes how much is too much? When does the performer go from getting his point across to hammering the audience over and over again with his opinion on the right values for this country? It seems to me Mr. Cumming - who came off as preachy - hasn't found that balance yet.
As we all know, Mr. Cumming has a flamboyant personality. His commentary wasn't limited to immigration issues. As much as I enjoy his unique energy onstage, even I found the story about his testicular exam to be a bit awkward. I understand what he was going for with this anecdote - to raise awareness for testicular cancer - but here was another example of the story just going and going.
There were some high points in his banter. Cumming owns a club in New York called Club Cumming. He describes it as a safe place for all to come and enjoy. One night, after singing for hours at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Sir Paul McCartney came in to the club with Emma Stone and Billie Jean King. McCartney ended up accompanying Cumming for an impromptu performance.
I admire Alan Cumming for wanting to do something different with Legal Immigrant. I admire the fact that he is so passionate about certain issues. I will also always admire his talent. In this case, I think he needs to figure out how to meld those three elements into an evening that isn't so heavy on the commentary. If he doesn't, some of his audience members might leave uttering the title of a song he performed in Cabaret - "I Don't Care Much."
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission
Alan Cumming appeared for one-night-only at the Music Center at Strathmore on April 24, 2019.
For upcoming events at Strathmore, click here.