Alan Cumming at Joe’s Pub – Legal Immigrant

 

 

 

by JK Clarke

 

The first thing you notice, within minutes of Alan Cumming grabbing the microphone on the cozy stage of Joe’s Pub for his new show Legal Immigrant (running through June 30) is that he’s not merely the star of a cabaret performance, but rather this is a party and he’s your host. It’s a moment of life imitating art. Cumming, known for his many turns as the Master of Ceremonies/Emcee of Cabaret—particularly the two Broadway revivals, one in 1998, for which he won a Tony and just about every other award; and in the acclaimed 2014 revival—makes welcoming and accommodating guests to a club seem the most natural thing in the world. It also therefore stands to reason that he now owns his own club, Club Cumming, in the East Village, where he welcomes guests on a regular basis.

And though the common thread that runs through Legal Immigrant—that we are all immigrants here, some more recent than others (including Cumming, a Scottish national who recently became an American citizen)—has taken on extra gravity of late, Cumming didn’t let the social commentary weigh heavily on the night. Nor did he let it be forgotten. Opening with a medley of “The Singer/Old Friends/Not a Day Goes By/Losing My Mind” (Walter Marks/Stephen Sondheim), he name-dropped that Liza Minnelli suggested he open with “The Singer,” then added, as he did after each number, that the writers had roots elsewhere (in this case, as in many others, they were Jewish-Americans).

 

Lance Horne, Alan Cumming, Christopher Jago, Eleanor Norton

 

Cumming’s voice is soothing and elegant, bringing to mind 1980s-era Peter Gabriel, with that same deeply felt passion and fullness. He performed an eclectic grouping of songs, from Pink’s (Irish-German-Lithuanian-Jewish-American) “Give Me a Reason” to Edith Piaf/Marguerite Monnot’s (French), “Hymn to Love” to Lieber and Stoller’s (Jewish-American) “Is That All There Is.” In the midst of his songs, Cumming’s eyes flit from audience member to audience member, intimately, almost flirtatiously, making everyone there feel like a special guest or a friend.

Musical Director/Pianist Lance Horne’s arrangements perfectly suited Cumming’s style, and again like a good host, Cumming showed deep love and respect for his band (Eleanor Norton on cello, Christopher Jago on drums and guitar, and Riley Mulherkar on trumpet). He even paused during a song break to make sure, ever the accommodating party-giver, to make sure they all had a fresh cocktail.

 

Alan Cumming – photo by Jennifer Lilya

 

Unlike many cabaret shows, Cumming didn’t stick to standards, but dove into numbers (again with creative medleys) culled from Disney hits and contemporary composers that may well be standards some day, like Lin Manuel-Miranda’s (Puerto Rican-American)  “How Far I’ll Go” and “Let It Go” from Frozen by the hit making-couple of the day, Robert Lopez (Filipino American) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (American). And with a dash of hope thrown in as an encore, he closed with a staple of adolescent auditions around the globe, “Tomorrow” (Charles Strouse/Martin Chernin – Jewish Americans) from Annie. Somehow, in Cumming’s able hands, it didn’t rankle or cause an ear worm as it often does. Instead, sticking with the message of the day, it left the audience with a sense of hope and a reminder that things change and eventually get better.

Most of all, and a vital characteristic in a good host, Cumming seemed genuinely to be having a terrific time. He made it known there’s was no place in the world he’d rather be. And that went the same for his audience.

 

Alan Cumming – Legal Immigrant. Through June 30 – shows at midnight, doors at 11.30PM, at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette Street, at Astor Place). www.publictheater.org

 

Photos: David Andrako (except where noted), cover photo by Jennifer Lilya

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