Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, The Hub, Edinburgh: Hankies at the ready for a torrent of squelchy, soggy songs

It’s his autobiographical and shamelessly showbiz anecdotes in-between numbers which really delight

Holly Williams
Monday 08 August 2016 16:58
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Alan Cumming performing at The Hub in Edinburgh
Alan Cumming performing at The Hub in Edinburgh

Welcome to Club Cumming. When the Scottish actor was performing in Cabaret on Broadway, he turned his dressing room into an after-party destination replete with, we’re told, a neon sign, sponsored booze and a wealth of emotion-sodden songs – because nothing pleases a Scot like being both drunk and sentimental. It’s a vibe he recreates for the Edinburgh International Festival, and Cumming, resplendent in leather trousers and sleeveless shirt, certainly proves a most charming host.

There’s the twinkling eyes, the cheeky grin, the Scottish accent that comes as a surprise to visiting American fans of The Good Wife… the show’s as much about his winning between-song chat as the big numbers themselves – although Cumming really goes for them, fist-clenching, hair-grabbing, crotch-twitching and all. He’s ably supported by a tight, swinging band of grand piano, cello and drums.

The songs really are sappy – in fact, they're beyond even sappy, into big and squelchy and soggy. We’re told to have hankies at the ready. And they’re all well set-up with a back story, whether that’s dedicating ‘Goodnight Saigon’ to his grandfather – who, Cumming has discovered, was a PTSD-suffering war vet who later died in Malaysia playing Russian Roulette – or to his abusive father, who gets a blast of Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Dinner at Eight’. The song ‘Mother Glasgow’ is first comically translated, then played as a straight tribute to the city, which re-embraced the song in the face of a tragic lorry accident in the city centre in 2014.

Things aren’t always quite so serious – Miley Cyrus, Avril Lavigne and Adele all get the Cumming treatment, their cheesy pop stylings turned into gut-busting ballads. “Take off your judgey hat,” we’re told early on, and you’ll “hear them in a different way.”

He’s right – although the schmaltz can be too thick to get past. Cumming may well up enough to imperil his “guyliner”, but most eyes remain dry, I'd wager. It’s his autobiographical and shamelessly showbiz anecdotes in-between numbers which really delight, however, lightly walking the tightrope between sharp-eyed and slushy. Whether it’s acidly recounting reviews that favourably reported on his penis size or taking tips on how to be a cabaret diva from Liza Minelli, Sappy Songs proves a camply tasty treat - and a club that's well worth the membership.

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