Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs With Friends

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by Brian Scott Lipton

 

 

Anyone who knows the work of the audacious Scottish-born actor Alan Cumming (“Cabaret” “The Good Wife”) probably wouldn’t have taken the title of his Carnegie Hall concert, “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs With Friends” too literally. But it was impossible to truly expect the amazing and amazingly eclectic three-hour concert Cumming delivered, which bounced from pop to Broadway and film and back. Cumming seemed to literally put his whole being, inside and out, into every number – many preceded by lengthy anecdotes that illuminated not just the songs but Cumming’s life story. (Admittedly, many of these stories might have fell into the category of ‘too much information’ for some audience members, but I loved every one of them!)

 

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The evening, as he repeatedly pointed out, was about connection – to both his material and the audience, and he managed to do so even when one might have thought it impossible, such as on forgettable pop hits like Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.” A cleverly constructed mash-up of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” and Katy Perry’s “Firework,” with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus providing back-up vocals, was actually pretty genius. Which is not to say Cumming can’t do full justice to great pop, whether it was Billy Joel’s trenchant “Goodnight Saigon” (about the Vietnam War), Annie Lennox’s heart-wrenching “Why” (about a love affair gone bad), and especially Rufus Wainwright’s stunning “Dinner at Eight” (about a complex father-son relationship.) Equally passionate were Cumming’s takes on Brecht-Weill’s “How Do Humans Live,” Kander & Ebb’s “You, You, You,” and “Mein Herr,” and especially, Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” which closed the show.

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The actor’s friends, which included his extraordinary musical director Lance Horne, were basically yummy icing on this delicious layer cake. Rikki Lake joined Cumming for the delightfully silly “Ecstasy,” which the pair originally sang as a jingle to advertise condoms; the ever-adorable Darren Criss played piano and sang harmony on Kander & Ebb’s brooding “I Don’t Care Much,” before soloing (with guitar) on a folksy version of “Part of That World” (from “The Little Mermaid); and, best of all, the divine Kristin Chenoweth joined her old pal for a raucous “Easy Street” (from “Annie,” which they performed together in the TV movie version), before bringing down the house with a gorgeous solo take on Randy Newman’s Oscar-winning tune “When Somebody Loved Me.”

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If there was one truly sappy song, it was perhaps the most joyous: “Next to Me,” penned by Cumming and Horne, and dedicated to – and written about – Cumming’s husband, Grant Shaffer. Hearing about the trust and security in their off-stage relationship makes one understand why Cumming can be such a fearless artist on stage.

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The evening was a release celebration for his album “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs” on Yellow Sound Label.    www.yellowsoundlabel.com/alan-cumming-sings-sappy-songs-live-at-the-cafe-carlyle

 

Photos: Koitz

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