Alan Cumming Connects With a Sold-Out Crowd at Carnegie Hall

February 14, 2016 1:13 pm Last Updated: February 16, 2016 9:39 am

Alan Cumming became an instant star on Broadway when he first appeared in the 1998 revival of “Cabaret.” He returned to the role 15 years later and was as magnetic as the first time. He has also scored in a number of other roles on stage, movies, and television and is currently nominated for an Emmy for his role in “The Good Wife.” Though blazingly funny, he has revealed his family’s troubled history in a best-selling memoir, “Not My Father’s Son.” In conjunction with the release of his album, “Sappy Songs: Live at the Café Carlyle” (on Yellow Sound Label), he gave a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall.

It was an appropriate venue, since as the singer pointed out, Andrew Carnegie was from Scotland, Cumming’s native country.

Cumming has just turned 51 and, to celebrate, he confided that he had gotten a tattoo with the words “only connect” from E.M. Forster’s novel “Howards End.” The words are superfluous since he always connects with an audience, starting with a galvanic performance of Annie Lennox’s “Why.”

While there were many jokes thrown in, Cumming also linked personal stories with some of the more downbeat material. He spoke of discovering, in the course of a television program about his family history, that his grandfather had been a decorated World War II hero who committed suicide. Until then, the family had no idea what happened to the grandfather from the end of World War II until his mysterious death in Malaysia six years later. This led to the artist’s work in raising funds for organizations helping ex-GIs suffering from PTSD. From this, he segued into Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” about the Vietnam War.

He spoke about his violent father, whom he hadn’t spoken to in two decades and who later denied paternity (the source of the title of Cumming’s memoir). Then, he sang Rufus Wainwright’s bracing “Dinner at Eight” about the singer-songwriter’s own fractured relationship with his father.

With Cumming, the playful side often comes out, especially with his guest stars. Ricki Lake joined him to recreate a comic commercial they had once done, Darren Criss performed a duet and solo, and Kristin Chenoweth sang with her crystalline voice. Cumming told a funny story about Liza Minnelli and paid tribute to Chita Rivera as well as Kander and Ebb with “You, You, You” from the Broadway show “The Visit.” The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus joined him for a medley of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory,” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

Cumming delivered what he called a musical travelogue, starting with “Mother Glasgow” from Scotland, “La Complainte de la Butte” from France, and “How Do Humans Live” from Germany.

Cumming poked fun at Stephen Sondheim by stitching together fragments of songs from different shows into “No One Is Alive While I’m Around” and later launched into the satirical “The Ladies Who Lunch.” He has an extraordinary talent for taking wildly disparate songs and making them his own.

Cumming was backed by a fine quartet led by his musical director and pianist, Lance Horne, with Eleanor Norton on cello, Michael Croiter on guitar and percussion, and Chris Jago on drums. In the second half of the concert, trumpeter Riley Mulherkar joined the group.