Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs

Feb. 5, 2017 | By Bruce R. Feldman

"Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs," Disney Concert Hall,

Los Angeles, January 29, 2017

What was Alan Cumming thinking when he named his one-man show Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs? There was very little that was silly in the appealing show that the singular performer brought to the Disney Concert Hall on Sunday. Rather, Cumming presented an evening of thoughtfully curated pop songs, rarely heard dramatic ballads, and intimate anecdotes – all intended to disarm as much as please.

Early on, Cumming signaled he would be exploring mostly offbeat territory when he removed his suit jacket after his first number, playing the rest of his act brawny-armed in a tight white shirt with sleeves cut off at the armholes.

Over the next two hours, the versatile actor-singer offered material as his varied as his wide-ranging career and eclectic personal interests. Musically, he alternated from the well known to the unfamiliar, from the glib to the theatrical, from the angry to the droll. Among the highpoints were contemporary hits by Miley Cyrus and April Lavigne, the plaintive French ballad Complainte de la Butte,”Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s agitprop anthem What Keeps a Man Alive?”and Noel Coward’s heartrending If Love Were All.

One standout on the little known side was Cumming’s emotive interpretation of Lance Horne’s Last Day on Earth, with the composer on the piano. Horne provided sympathetic, sure-handed musical direction for this, and the rest of the evening, as well.

Cumming also told stories, lots of stories. One involving Liza MInelli, Judy Garland and Kay Thompson went on for a while and was amusing if pointless. In another, Cumming revealed personal details that he had discovered about his maternal grandfather who survived WWII but died mysteriously in Malaysia a few years after.

And, yes, there was even a bit of Sondheim to satisfy his Broadway fans in the form of a mildy diverting mashup of No One is Alone and Not While I’m Around.

The Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus filed on stage near the show’s end to accompany Cumming on a few numbers. Their contribution was negligible. Rikki Lake turned up early in the evening to join him, briefly, in a forgettable comedy bit. She was gone in a flash, leaving an otherwise willing audience to ask, “What just happened?” These were the only two miscalculations of the night.

The final number on Sunday, Sondheim’s caustic The Ladies Who Lunch, provided a powerful emotional climax that had his appreciative fans on the edge of their seats.

A toast to that invincible bunch,

The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.

Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch--

Everybody rise!

Rise!

And the audience did as Cumming commanded, showering him with love and appreciation for a memorable evening of uncommon, quirky treasures that, for the most part, were far from sappy.

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