Arts, Features

Alan Cumming visits Cambridge to sing ‘sappy songs’

Alan Cumming performs at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University Oct. 6. PHOTO COURTESY ROBERT TORRES/ CELEBRITY SERIES

“I’m here to sing you some sappy songs,” Alan Cumming said in the middle of his second tune last Friday. “Be warned. Have a hanky at the ready.”

Cumming performed at a nearly sold-out show, “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs,” last Friday at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University. The program was organized by the Celebrity Series of Boston.

The audience buzzed with excitement for the performer, who many knew from his roles as EmCee in the musical “Cabaret” and Eli Gold in the show “The Good Wife.”

“I used to watch ‘The Good Wife,’ so I started following him after that, and he just seems like a goofy, fun guy to see,” said attendee Lisa Lenon, 58, from Marshfield. “In these days something called ‘sappy songs’ sounds just like what we need.”

True to the show’s name, the opening song was a rendition of “Why” by Annie Lennox, followed by Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” and Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.”

Showing his more lighthearted side, Cumming talked about his experience during his most recent run in “Cabaret,” and how he opened “Club Cumming” in his dressing room.

Cumming then detailed the troubled history of his late grandfather, Tommy Darling, who was a war hero in World War II and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder

Cumming explained the charity, Give an Hour, connects mental health professionals to soldiers and connects the soldiers to community service. The mention of the organization served as a lead in to Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon.”

“There’s a phrase in Scotland that goes ‘The show is on the floor,’” Cumming joked to the audience. “To pick it up, I will tell you a hilarious show business anecdote.”

The show business anecdote was the tale of how Cumming wrote a song for a condom commercial, which he wrote with pianist Lance Horne. The two performed it on stage.

Cumming also sang Michael Marra’s “Mother Glasgow” as an homage to his home, mentioning Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Cumming regaled the audience with a poem written in the style of Burns, sent to him by Steve Siddle. The poem, which was a criticism of President Donald Trump, was printed on postcards available for sale, and all proceeds go to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cumming continued his “sojourn trip around Europe,” as he called it, with the French song “Complainte de la Butte” by Jean Renoir, followed by German song “How Do Humans Live,” from The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill.

Cumming then explained the origins of his autobiography: his father revealed that Cumming was not his biological son.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t many songs about abusive father-son relationships,” Cumming said to the audience. “The musical area has not been sufficiently mined.”

After singing Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner at Eight,” Cumming teared up before cracking a joke to the audience.

“Sentimentality and drinking are the two favorite pastimes in Scotland and I’m doing both tonight,” he said.

To pick up the show again, Cumming told the story of a whirlwind relationship that ended in him getting the man’s name tattooed on his leg, leading into “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne.

After poking fun at pop songs, Cumming sang a mashup of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

Cumming concluded with Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” and Judy Garland’s “If Love Were All.”

Cumming left the stage with a standing ovation from the audience. They didn’t sit down until he came back out for an encore performance, singing Stephen Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch,” originally sung by Elaine Stritch.

The audience was buzzing long after the show ended, and patrons waited in a wraparound line to meet Cumming, who was signing autographs and taking pictures.

“The only thing I want to do in my life,” Cumming said at one point, “the only thing there is to do in life is to connect properly with other people, and I hope we’re doing that tonight.”

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