I think that in future I may simply avoid solo-star musical cabaret
evenings. Although one may have admired the star in a string of
dramatic and character roles, seeing them in effect commodify their own
self – turning their person into persona – is often a little tacky, or
more than a little. Squalid, even. Alan Cumming is rightly cherished
for his beguiling camp bravado, which can inform and/or subvert his
performance in roles from the Emcee in Cabaret
to Nightcrawler in the
movie. But when
that quality itself becomes the subject, it becomes paradoxically a
more uneasy ride.
Cumming takes the stage looking for all the world like Marc Almond circa
1990, albeit Marc Almond
dressed in casual sweats. His manner is also more that of a concert
performance than conventional cabaret; there may be a chaise longue
onstage, but the tone of the evening is more characterised by the
gig-like way he stands behind and manipulates the mic stand. Even the
choice of opening number reinforces this impression: in a set that
later includes songs by Kander & Ebb, Cole Porter, a number from Chess
and a Hedwig
medley, he kicks off (and
really kicks) with “Shine” by the beautiful and talented Cyndi Lauper.
Pretty much everyone he namechecks is beautiful and talented, to the
point where one can no longer determine how much irony is intended.
Similarly, lines like “I don’t know if anyone here has ever performed
at the Tony awards…” are self-parodic on one level, but on another they
rebound to remind us that Cumming is trading on his stardom itself.
The show, which runs for only a week in the West End, was initially put
together as a reflection of his decade-long residence in America; the
title comes from the English-proficiency part of the naturalisation
test he sat for U.S. citizenship. He re-tools it as he goes along for a
less woo-hoo British audience, although on press night even his mention
of his role in Romy And Michele's
High School Reunion
drew a whoop. It’s a fine negotiation: no
doubt he intends to deflate the glitter (to mix a metaphor) by placing
it next to himself, but the danger is that often it can seem as if he
is inflating himself to match it.
Written for the Financial