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June 27, 2021

Adelaide Cabaret Festival: Thank you, Alan, it was a good time

Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age
Adelaide Festival Theatre.

June 26. Duration : 1 hr 20 mins.

It is the final night of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and Alan Cumming bounds on to the stage in a slim-fitting grey suit jacket and black tie, matching grey shorts and black and white Converse sneakers. “I feel twitchy and bitchy and manic”, he sings, “Calm and collected and choking with panic /But alive, but alive, but alive.”

The song is from the 1970 musical Applause and first performed by Lauren Bacall. Here it is blended (in an evening of lively mash-ups) with Sing Happy!, the Liza Minnelli favourite about happy endings and robins in spring, and no need of singing about stormy weather.

The songs are key to the evening’s message – that Alan Cumming is not acting his age, and that’s not necessarily a bad idea. After all, this ageing (and yes, dying) thing awaits each one of us, so why not carpe some diem while we can. Cumming is a droll advocate for his case and in a series of disarming asides he mixes confessional memoir with gossip, gently hedonistic polemic and a dash of Scottish nationalism.

With his rolling Highland brogue he recalls good times at his East Village venue, Club Cumming in New York City, only just re-opened after eighteen months of COVID, and replicated (to sold out audiences) in Adelaide as part of his program as artistic director of the Cabaret Festival.

Acting your age. Growing up. Mutton dressed as lamb ? What do these phrases mean, he asks. I like wearing shorts he demurs, despite being ridiculed for wearing them for a celebrity occasion. Age appropriateness, he contests, needs to be a more fluid concept, and besides, who has time to waste on the inevitable ?

He muses on the deaths of three close friends – Sean Connery, Florence Henderson from the Brady Bunch show, and his beloved dog, Honey. In his irresistible way he makes the telling poignant, funny and quirkily transcendent.

The songs link to these unfurling themes. Lieber and Stoller’s Is That All There Is ?, the Peggy Lee standard, concludes with a trumpet and cello excerpt from Schubert, expertly performed by Josh Chenoweth and Rachel Johnston. This is followed by Everything from A Star is Born and, among others linked to childhood memory, Adele’s When We Were Young – “You still look like a movie/ you still look like a song / When we were young.”

Cumming has a fearless approach to repertoire as he moves seamlessly to a heartfelt version of How Far I’ll Go from Moana mashed with Part of Your World, from The Little Mermaid. “Where else would you hear a Disney Princess medley from a 56 year old man ?” he asks with a triumphant smile.

He is often called elfin and puckish but he rejects any notion he is Peter Pan. He boisterously sings his own composition, Don’t Go to The Plastic Surgeon and freely confides his woes with scrotal ageing and what his dermatologist calls the old man’s barnacle on his back.

There is no shortage of highlights – Love and Love Alone from The Visit and, another medley: When Did We Come to This ? from The Wild Party and from Cabaret, Maybe This Time. Then there is more Liza with a Z as he belts out It Was a Good Time. Cumming’s excellent band – trumpeter Josh Chenoweth, cellist Rachel Johnston, drummer Chris Neale – ably led throughout by MD Henry Kopersik at the piano, turns it into the best time.

Alan Cumming, for this, and the Cabaret Festival in the middle of the COVID winter –thank you. As the song goes – It was the best time. It was a party, just to be near you.

“Thank you, Alan, it was a good time”, The Australian, June 29, 2021, p.12.

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