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Alan Cumming @ Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review

The absurdly versatile actor and performer Alan Cumming aptly opened his intimately biographical show (11 June at Her Majesty's Theatre), 'Sappy Songs', by singing “these are the contents of my head” in his version of ‘Why’, famously sung by fellow Scot, Annie Lennox.

His brain is home to a litany of showbiz anecdotes collected throughout his decades of treading the boards and gracing the screens: stories about Liza Minelli and Miley Cyrus. The circuitry of this brain, though, was wired during a violently abusive childhood. In this environment, to amuse and to pretend was to perhaps survive or avoid another vicious beating.

Alan, in his thick Scottish brogue, deftly navigated between comedic troughs and tragic valleys, between Brecht and Katy Perry, between Donald Trump and condom commercials. As an “actor who sings”, he artfully weaved an intricate narrative arc.

Upon the advice of the divine Miss Minelli, Alan treated each song within the arc as a miniature piece of theatre, making 'Sappy Songs' a little like a Babushka doll; many stories within a story.

The show – staged as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival – honed through stints at New York’s Café Carlyle, in Las Vegas and in Edinburgh, retained much of the patter of the recorded version, but with added local flavour and improvisation.

As is perhaps appropriate for a show starring such a fine character actor, you never quite knew where the performing ended and the real man begun.

When he sang of his war-hero grandfather in ‘Goodbye Saigon’ and about his brutish father on ‘Dinner At Eight’, though, the emotion was palpable. On the latter, genuine tears welled in his eyes ruining his “guyliner”.

When, during the anticipated encore, he sang “I believe that since my life began, the most I’ve had is a talent to amuse” from Judy Garland’s ‘If Love Were All’, your heart ached for this man so deprived of love as a child. He then swiftly used his talent to amuse, though, by closing the show with Sondheim’s ‘Ladies Who Lunch’.

Alan has 'only connect' inked on his arm, reminding him of his purpose as a performer and a human: to find connection with others. He didn’t only connect on this night. He did much, much more.
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