Festival review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs

Alan Cumming takes up residence in The Hub for the Festival. Picture: Toby Williams
Alan Cumming takes up residence in The Hub for the Festival. Picture: Toby Williams
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BEFORE a well-telegraphed encore and standing ovation, Scotland’s very own Alan Cumming, star of The Good Wife, X-Men’s Nightcrawler and, for those with a longer memory, one half of comedy duo Victor and Barry, held a capacity audience under his elfin-like spell.

* * * * * * *

The Hub, Royal Mile

Mirroring his acting credits, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, part of the International Festival, is an eclectic mix. From pop songs that soar to musical theatre numbers that roar, his choices are all torch songs that burn brightly, flaring and sparking with emotion.

The idea for the show, he reveals, came from his last stint playing Emcee in Cabaret on Broadway where, after each performance, his dressing room would be transformed into Club Cumming where he would entertain guests and cast alike with his own musical tastes.

Tonight, in the shadow of the Scott Monument and various other Capital landmarks silhouetted against a lilac sky, The Hub is Club Cumming.

With his audience seated six to a booth, or cabaret style with drinks on tables, the 51-year-old embarks upon a joyous romp through some of his favourite tunes.

To start, Eurythmics’ Why? is followed by Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know and X Factor favourite The Climb.

Cumming does not so much sing his repertoire as live it, telling stories set to music, often with a vulnerability plain for all to see.

Billy Joel’s Goodnight Saigon, a tribute to his paternal grandfather Tommy Darling, is particularly touching, while Rufus Wainwright’s Dinner At Eight, as Cumming recalls his relationship with his father, holds a dark poignancy. An unexpected mash-up of Adele, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga also goes down well.

The songs are interspersed with anecdotes: did you know he first performed in the musical Cabaret at Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre in 1987, or that he once wrote a song for an ad campaign promoting Trojan Condoms? Called Ecstasy, he sings it. Hilarious.

Taking a trip around Europe he begins with Michael Marra’s Mother Glasgow, complete with translation. “Are there any Scottish people in?” he laughs, adding, “Well it is the Edinburgh Festival. You have to ask.”

Working with a tight trio of musicians – Eleanor Norton on cello, Stuart Semple on drums and MD Lance Horne on piano – Cumming clearly relishes every second of his 90 minutes on stage.

Charming, cheeky and warmly engaging, this is what he was born to do, he’s living the high life and living it well. Definitely the must-see show of the Festival.

Run ends 27 August