Alan Cumming sings Sappy Songs

What: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
When: January 7th, 2016
Where: The Playhouse at the Arts Centre Melbourne

Alan Cumming sings sappy songs, yes he does. But the true brilliance of his performance lies in the delivery of his (often-naughty) stories.

I’m going off memory, so some details may be slightly off or incomplete. Sorry.

When I first heard that Alan Cumming was doing a concert here, I’m not entirely sure why I decided to go. I’m not too familiar with Alan’s career – of course, I know of a few roles here and there: x-men, burlesque and spy kids, to name a few. But other than that, I’m pretty much in the dark. I actually wasn’t even aware of his natural accent until I saw him on television the week of the concert. Fool me, I thought he was American.

Still, I guess the opportunity arose, and I wanted to take it. And I’m really glad I did. I sat in the middle of the third row from the stage. I actually felt a lot of pressure on me to laugh and enjoy myself on a visual level, because I tend to not show my emotions on the outside so much – but still, I had a great seat!

I don’t want to focus so much on the performance itself because you can watch the entire concert on YouTube. It is much better in person, of course, but if you’re curious or are unsure if you should go see him, watch the videos for a bit of a preview. But definitely go and see it. His naughty stories are worth the ticket price alone.

The thing about the concert is that it is so much more than a concert. I mean, yes, there are songs, of course. Alan did mention how he had a personal connection with all the songs he was singing – and this was evident of the tears he shed during some numbers. But unlike most concerts where the star might have a few tidbits or stories in-between songs, Alan’s feel longer, more like you’re sitting down for a comedy act or show and tell. His stories are endearing, making you feel like you’re getting more for your buck than a set list. I should also mention, you could kind of call it part strip tease, as he begins the show in a full suit, before he whips off his jacket revealing his toned arms. I also remember some hip thrusts and touching during another of his numbers. I’m sure that sounds more dirty than I mean it too – but I think Alan would like it that way!

My one complaint, and I always say this about concerts, is that because the show is pretty much scripted, there does seem to be a bit of ungenuineness about the show, which I’m never a fan of. I understand it is often necessary, and in some ways it’s like real life – if you retell a story, for example, you’re probably going to say the same thing mostly word for word – and it’s not different to introducing a song, but I do prefer when the show is fresh and when there is alibiing. There was a little bit of this. A women in the audience was struggling to open her cough lolly wrapper. Alan told her to open it because he could hear the ruffling. It was an amusing moment. The women said she couldn’t open it, so Alan offered to open the packet and did. Saying that though, it definitely didn’t ruin the show for me – but that’s more of a personal thing that a complaint, as much.

If you would like to watch:

But as the show is available online, I wanted to share some little stories and tidbits from the night – as I think those are the more interesting parts of not attending. So here goes:

  • Alan says he believes you should work for yourself first, and then you’ll be happy. This was in regards to the production he did of The Threepenny Opera. He got mixed reviews, but one of his most memorable reviews mentioned how his penis looked in his very tight pants. The pants were designed by Isaac Mizrah.
  • He said that one night after the show, he met some ladies by the stage door – and they’d come on a theatre bus (a bus picks up people and takes them on a five day tour where they go around to see a bunch of theatre shows). Alan said that the lady had said that they saw The Lion King, then him in The Threepenny Opera, and then they were seeing the Little Mermaid the next day. Talk about an odd mix!
  • He said he wanted to sing Complainte de la Butte in its original language, because when songs are translated they tend to not flow as well.
  • Alan said he’d been very fortunate to have his career, and he was also fortunate enough to go on the show Who Do You Think You Are? There was always a mystery about his grandfather, Thomas Darling. Alan hoped that the people involved on putting together the show would focus on finding out his pa was. He thought it would be a great gift for his mother. He said that he found out that he was in the messenger during the second world war, and then became a police officer. But he had a form of post traumatic stress disorder, but that wasn’t a known thing back then so he had a lot of person trauma. But in the end he died playing Russian Roulette. So it was a sad end to his life. (watch the programme for more information if you’re curious)
  • He said that that story inspired him to seek out a charity where (and I can’t exactly remember all the details, so please forgive me if parts are wrong) you can spend an hour with someone who is dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, and then they in turn do something for another person. (Please don’t quote me on this. It was something to do with something like that)
  • Alan spoke of his role of The Good Wife, and mentioned something about a  scandalous phone call plot point, and shit was basically going to hit the fan next episode. (As I don’t watch the show, I have no idea what he was talking about)
  • When Alan got to his “last song” he mentioned how this is technically his last song, but he’s going to walk off stage, talk to his stage manager and then come back on stage for the encore. He said now that we know that though, we have to act as excited as if we didn’t know that he was coming back on stage. But he said the fact that his band would stay on stage should be a giveaway that he was naturally coming back. He said it is all for the theatrics of it, and he thinks it stems from people not really realizing they miss something until it ends.
  • In regards to his Stephen Sondheim mash up No One Is Alive While I’m Around. He said he wrote it with his musical director, and they have been performing it a while now and have yet to be sued or contacted by his people to make him stop. He said basically that all his songs sound the same, so that is why they so easily go together.
  • Alan spoke of a great love he had for four months. I think he may have said ‘just four months of pure shagging’ but anyway. So he fell madly in love with a guy called Raven. (He actually said how he forgot that Raven called him today – as in, the day of the concert, but had yet to call him back) He and Raven decided one night to get tattoos of their names on eachother’s bodies. Alan got the tattoo basically in his groin-area. Four months later the relationship was over and he was stuck with a tattoo. He kept it for a while, but it became complicated when he’d have men eh down there, and they’d ask who Raven was. So he was trying to work out what to do with it. He was recommended changing it to ‘craven’, ‘ravenous’ and one he almost consider ‘raver’. Then he found someone who was an expert in tattoo removal, so he had to go back about four times and get injections in his groin-area and then they’d put a machine on it and suck out the ink – Alan said he couldn’t see exactly how it was being done because it was blocked off with a small curtain. But he was lucky the tattoo was only a couple of months old as it meant it was easier to suck the ink out. He said if anyone saw him later in Melbourne and they ended up in a situation where he took his pants off, you’d never know he had a tattoo there.
  • He caught up with Raven a while later and he asked Alan if he still had his tattoo. Alan returned the question, and Raven had changed his tattoo to say ‘Balance’
  • Hhe told the story that really affected the people of Glasgow. A man driving a truck passed out at the wheel, and ended up killing six people. You can wiki it. I believe this was in relation to him singing Mother Glasgow – from memory, I think it was sung in memorial. I can’t really remember the relation, but Alan did a little introduction of what the words in the song meant. It was so heartfelt and beautiful.
  • Alan said he just got a call that his book ‘Not My Father’s Son’ just became a New York’s Time Best Seller. He said something like, ‘nothing says Christmas, like a dysfunctional family story’.
  • Speaking of his father, he spoke a little bit about how abusive his father was. And how he later found out that he was adopted. But he wanted to sing a song for him.
  • At the end of The Climb, he said ‘Bet you didn’t expect to hear that tonight’. But he said that he’s fascinated with Miley Cyrus. He said he watched an interview with her the other day, which mentioned how a lot of young actresses were drink driving and getting in trouble. Her advice to them was, ‘you’re rich, get a driver’
  • Alan said he’d been doing movies and television for a while, but he returned to do Cabaret again after 15 years. During Cabaret, he turned his dressing room into more of a nightclub and named it ‘Club Cumming’. He said he even got an alcohol brand to sponsor the club, so they got free booze. He said he’d been thinking about doing a show like Sings Sappy Songs for a while, and he was very encouraged by Liza Minnelli. He went to see her in concert and he and the two guys he were with, just stood in awe holding hands during the entire performance.
  • Speaking of Liza, he said that she told him a story how she was doing a concert and her mother, Judy Garland, and I can’t remember the other person (I thought it was her daughter, but I can’t find any information about her having a daughter – so I’m unsure who the other person was. Blame my ignorance or the fact that I’m a child of the 90s). Anyway, so Judy and mystery woman were in the audience, they were moved by the performance but they didn’t have a tissue, so one of them (I guess Judy) got out a powder puff (to powder her nose), and wiped her tears.
    Then she gave it to the other woman and she did the same. And then they gave it to Liza. Liza told the story too at her concert, and there were tears. It was beautiful and moving. Alan later asked Liza if she still had that powder puff, and she said ‘of course not darling. I made the whole thing up’ (I’m sure the story would be on YouTube somewhere if you’re curious.)
  • Alan said a lot of songs these days sound the same because there is only so many cord combinations you can make. So that’s why he did “what the kid’s these days call a mash-up”
  • Alan spoke how he was contacted by some advertising people about doing an online commercial for a new condom. He said the advertising people were awkward and sweaty. Anyway, so it was for this new condom called Trojan – and they were shaped like a baseball bat. Anyway, he was totally into doing the commercial. So he did it like an old chat show, and then a commercial jingle for the condom. It is an ad he did with Ricki Lake. You can watch it here:
  • He performed the jingle on the night with his music director because he joked how Rick Lake was probably down at KFC.
  • He spoke about how nervous he was to host the Tony’s. He hosted it with Kristin Chenoweth. He said that they had to learn a dance routine but he didn’t have long to rehearse it. He said he’s a bad dancer and it takes him a long while to learn the steps, and he was dancing with professional dancers.
    He also mentioned how one skit involved him dressing up in costume, and there was meant to be five kids that came out from under his skirt (PS I haven’t seen the show, but I definitely should check it out so this makes more sense). Anyway, so they got five kids – it was in reference to the fact that The King and I was up for an award. He dressed as Anna (I think) and Kristin dressed as the King. So these five kids were meant to come out from under his skirt. But they rehearsed it and they decided to cut the five down to two. So all these kids were nervous and worried. Then they ended up cutting all the kids from the skit. Alan said he felt bad for the kids but good they learn about the disappointing reality of showbiz early, he joked.
  • At one stage, he said he got permission to sing a certain song tonight, but I don’t remember what it was – so I don’t know if he has sung it during other times or not. I have no recollection at all. (If anyone knows, please comment)
  • Alan said that he likes coming to Australia and learning the local slang. He gave three examples of his favourite three slang he has heard. His favourite one came from Melbourne though – I believe it was something to do when he went and got something trailed or fixed. I wish I could remember because it was damn hilarious. Also, his Australian accent is incredible!

Set List:

  • Why (Annie Lennox cover)
  • Somewhere Only We Know (Keane cover)
  • The Climb (Miley Cyrus cover)
  • Goodnight Saigon (Billy Joel cover)
  • Ecstasy
  • Mother Glasgow (Michael Marra cover)
  • La Complainte de la Butte (Jean Renior cover)
  • The Song of Inadequacy of Human Striving? (Kurt Weill cover)
  • Dinner at Eight (Rufus Wainwright cover)
  • Complicated (Avril Lavigne cover)
  • Someone Like You/The Edge of Glory/Firework (Adele/Lady Gaga/Katy Perry mashup)
  • No One Is Alive While I’m Around (Sondheim mashup)
  • And So It Goes (Billy Joel cover)
  • If Love Were All/The Ladies Who Lunch

The set list may not be correct – this is the listing from the Sydney show the same week.

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