Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2
Opened 2 September, 2009


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 second X-Men 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 Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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