Alan Cumming - Legal Immigrant: The Midnight Show at Joe's Pub - New York City Article

Alan Cumming - Legal Immigrant: The Midnight Show at Joe's Pub


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Alan Cumming - Legal Immigrant: The Midnight Show at Joe's Pub

Jun 21, 2018, 12:00 am

Alan Cumming, “Legal Immigrant”
Joe’s Pub
425 Lafayette St
Through Saturday June 30 (Midnight Shows)

There are two main reasons why crowds are lining up at midnight, across the entire length of the Public Theater, to see actor-singer Alan Cumming. (And this, mind you, is even while he’s doing a simultaneous run earlier in the evening for the more upscale audience at the Cafe Carlyle. While Steve Tyrell has, essentially, replaced Bobby Short as the Carlyle’s most regular “top draw,” then Mr. Cumming is the new Elaine Stritch - in more ways than one.) The first is that Mr. Cumming is, now more than ever, very famous for an ongoing series of television roles. (Which I personally have yet to see, although I confess to a fondness for his dual role as “The Great Gazoo” and “Mick Jagged” in the 2000 The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.) The other is, more obviously, that he is just absolutely the best at what we still call a “cabaret” show: a single person up on a stage, offering a mixture of stories and songs, in a room small enough that he can almost see the faces and the eyes of almost everyone in the house.
Mr. Cumming (who, more than ever, looks like a punk Stan Laurel) and his musical director, the resourceful Lance Horne, specialize in ingenious collages of songs that serve to enhance their emotional effectiveness. Their opening “montage” uses an unfamiliar song, “The Singer” (by Walter Marx) as a wrapper for three famous pieces by Sondheim (“Old Friends” and “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along and “Losing My Mind” from Follies, with lots of key changes). Mr. Cumming is one of the major male master of “Joe’s Pub-style” cabaret, a genre I associate with such larger-than-life divas as Lady Rizo, Meow Meow, Molly Pope, and Bridget Everett (truly larger-than-life). He goes for both the big emotions and the more intimate ones, and a surprising number his songs are actually highly traditional cabaret fare: “Hi Lilly Hi Lo” (from Lilly), the Peggy Lee / Leiber & Stoller Brechtian-styled hit “Is That All There Is?”, and Edith Piaf’s “Hymn D’Amour (If You Love Me).”
These Mr. Cumming and Mr. Lance adroitly interweave with newer material, like “When We Were Young” - which I didn’t recognize at first, because when Adele sings it, it’s as anthemic and belt-y as everything else she does, but Mr. Cumming transforms it into something tender and personal. He’ll modulate from a heartwarming love song into an extended monologue on the subject of testicles and / or placentas, all the while underscoring the whole works with a larger and more serious point about how much immigrants have contributed to American culture. It really would be a spoiler alert to name the completely unexpected, out-of-left-field show tune that he ends with, but I will tell you that Charlie Strouse and Marty Charnin should run down to Joe’s and catch this show at once. Mr. Cumming didn’t finish until 2:00AM, and I didn’t get to bed until well after three, which means I’ll be dopey and groggy all day today, but it was totally worth it.

Alan Cumming and Lance Horne (piano) with Eleanor Norton (cello), Christopher Jago (drums, guitar), and Riley Mulherkar (trumpet).

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Author: Will Friedwald
Photography by: STEPHEN SOROKOFF

Author: Will Friedwald

Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.

New Books:

THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP VOCAL ALBUMS (Pantheon Books / Random House, November 2017)

SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)