Regional Reviews: Phoenix
From the fear he encountered in co-hosting the 2015 Tony Awards to discovering secrets about his ancestors, the personal stories were brimming with humor, angst, and heartbreak. Cumming won his Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret, a role he repeated on Broadway this past season. The ease with which he talks to an audience and his ability to be personable in doing so, which he exhibited so well in Cabaret, was on display in his concert. These aspects of his personality, his fearlessness, and his clear tenor voice make him exceptionally entertaining in concert.
There wasn't a bad musical choice in the entire set list. Some of the more personable song highlights were numbers that Cumming dedicated to his father, his grandfather, and his home country of Scotland. These included an expertly sung rendition of Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon," which Cumming sang as a tribute to his late grandfather who served overseas and met a very unfortunate fate, and whom Cumming unfortunately never met. His spotless, punctuated enunciation of the lyrics, combined with the excellent sound system at the SCPA, allowed for Joel's words to have even more clarity. For the stirring "Mother Glasgow," Cumming gave the audience information so they'd better understand the Scottish references in the lyrics about the culture and people of his homeland, making the song even more meaningful. Having written about his abusive father in his best-selling memoir "Not My Father's Son," he sang a raw version of Rufus Wainwright's "Dinner at Eight," which is a recollection on the often present conflict between father and son, but also mentions the love that is hidden underneath.
Cumming gave his take on several pop songs, backed by musical director Lance Horne and Eleanor Norton on cello, both of whom delivered exceptional and skilled accompaniment on the well thought out arrangements. A mash-up of three hugely successful pop hits, which Cumming calls "Someone Like the Edge of Firework," is a combination of Adele's "Someone Like You," Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory," and Katy Perry's "Firework." It is a skillfully arranged piece, with Cumming's voice achieving a rawness and showing that he can hold his own against these three hugely successful women. Also, the Miley Cyrus song "The Climb" (written by Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe) and Annie Lennox's "Why" received heartfelt, introspective deliveries.
Cumming also sang sing a few non-pop songs, including "La Complainte de la Butte," which is a sweet tale about a French man who falls for a prostitute, which Cumming sang in French to honor the lyrics written by Jean Renoir. He also performed songs from musicals: a number from The Threepenny Opera, whose 2006 not so well received Broadway revival Cumming starred in; a sweetly heartfelt delivery of "You, You, You" from the recent Kander and Ebb Broadway musical The Visit; and, as an encore, a stunningly sung "The Ladies Who Lunch" written by Stephen Sondheim for Company.
The more "adult" moments in the show included Cumming talking about how, many years ago, he had the name of a man he'd just recently met tattooed in his groin area, only to then have the entire thing removed when he realized that both the tattoo and the man were very bad decisions. Also, Cumming was asked to star in an ad for condoms, and he sang the upbeat, humorous, and slightly naughty jingle that he and Horne wrote for the commercial. These comical moments created an ongoing element of fun in the evening, with Cumming's well delivered and natural between-song patter finding a balance between the humorous and emotional moments, so neither ever seemed out of place or pigeon-holed in to the evening.
As usual, the acoustics at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Virginia G. Piper Hall were exceptional. For such a large venue there is an intimacy that elevates a personable concert like Cumming's into something even more special. The clean site lines in the stadium seating auditorium also ensure that there isn't a bad seat in the house.
Alan Cumming: Uncut featured a charming, intimate, and truly fearless performance from Cumming. It was an exceptional evening full of meaningful songs, stories, humor, and personal tales punctuated by the natural ease that Cumming has in connecting with an audience.
Alan Cumming performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday November 7th, 2015. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.