Review: Alan Cumming, I Brought a Blue Car Today

September 10, 2009

alancummungibroughtabluecartodayI don’t see there being much point in writing a long and detailed review of Alan Cumming’s one man show, I Brought a Blue Car Today it is one of those events that if you weren’t there to witness it, then there isn’t much point in reading about it. (This makes me ponder all reviews that I write now, and how is there any point of reading them if you won’t actually see the show… hmm..) But anyway, the point for this is quite simply: I don’t think it would be possible for me to relay the show in a manner that get’s across what Cumming managed.

However for the sake of this review I’ll try. Faced with a bare stage, an odd assortment of a band, and a single mike stand I Brought a Blue Car Today is simple. A cross between a one man cabaret and this is your life moment. Cumming sings very casually, and at times very emotionally songs that will be appearing on his new album entitled the same as the show. He gives us glittering moments of his life now living in America, his relationship with his husband, and star struck moments through his equally glittering career.

Cumming is not getting any younger, this is evident from his slightly strained voice, his casual clothing and ever-growing wisdom of stories. But the thing is, Cumming isn’t trying to be anything than himself. This show isn’t about standing up and shouting to the rafters that he is Alan Cumming, the one and only… it is more a subtle invitation into a charming, amusing, sensitive and beautifully presented man who happens to like to sing, be a bit cheeky and shows an enduring love for his partner.

Singing a collection of show tunes he has done over the years, including a very dark and sinister Mein Heir from the hit broadway show Cabaret and other amusing songs such as a Victoria Wood piano/voice song, and an equally amusing song titled, Latte Boy. Whilst Cumming has a certain way of singing that doesn’t really change from song to song, it is his way of conveying the songs themselves that seem rather entrancing.

Little life stories with meeting celebrities such as Whoopie Goldberg and being snapped and published in newspapers with Mika (and being accused of getting down and dirty with Mika too…) dot the show between songs and give quite a few laughable moments.

My only criticism of the whole night is actually aimed at Nimax Theatre’s for their prices on seats. For a Friday night performance and ticket prices as high as they were it was perhaps no surprise that even in the cheaper seats (as I was) there were still several hundred seats available around me… But then again £25+ a ticket, what do you expect?!

I Brought a Blue Car Today is nothing more than Alan Cumming being himself, and doing it with an energy of someone who is truly talented and London will gladly welcome him back with open arms should he choose to return.

Alan Cumming’s debut album I Brought a Blue Car Today is out on 22nd September 2009, and is an eclectic mix of show tunes and collaborative songs. Unfortunately the one man show of the same title has now finished it’s run at the Vaudville Theatre, London.


Review: Been So Long

July 6, 2009
Showing at the Young Vic Theatre

Showing at the Young Vic Theatre

Raunchy, Oozing in sexual appeal, and some bloody good singing, this is the Young Vic’s current production of Been So Long.

It would be true to say that I had no expectations for this show, no idea in fact about what the show was about, let alone the style and content.

My thoughts are quite simple when you strip them back to the basics. This musical has the ability to entertain the audience tremendously. I’m not one for laughing loudly in public, especially not spontaneously, but it’s hard not to with Che Walkers words/lyrics and direction. Walker has managed to combine both an urban language with a poetic form, to create a dialogue packed with witty ‘street talk’ and outstanding descriptions of crude sexual fantasy.

Maybe I should have guessed from the title that possibly this was about sex, love and everything in between. There were moments where some of the text seemed a little too pushed in a crude manner, yet this only made it more entertaining. Especially with lines like, “I only have to look at a woman and she gives birth to my baby” (or something close to this). Walker if anything has a magical sense of language, especially in the context of this night club setting.

The acting is questionable – only in comparision to the performers outstanding singing. I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with the dialogue until the singing begun.

These have to be, some of the most talented singers I have ever encountered in a musical of this small scale. The leading small cast together with 3 backing singers brought hairs to stand up on my neck multiple times during this performance, through their singing ability alone.

Harry Hepple playing the rude boy of Gil stole the show for me, mainly because I did not expect such an angelic voice to come from such a ‘thug-like-character’. A real treat to hear him sing, desperately seeking a loss girl from some 6 years previous. Walker managing to mix both a tragic and comedic tale through beautiful singing of Hepple.

Now whilst I enjoyed this production, it has to be said that the story is simple to say the least. It couldn’t hold on its own, and if it was not the glorious singing I would not have rated this production highly at all. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy myself and would recommend to see it, but it has it’s flaws.

The story seems to be a bit washed-out, as if it had to be pushed to one side to allow for more musical numbers. Whilst this made for a more entertaining experience the whole piece lacks depth due to it’s one dimensional story. Alas, you can’t have it all it would appear.

My last comment is that there needs to be more musicals like this, more musicals with an empathsis on the urban, black directed cast. It was just a shame that the majority of the audience were made up of white theatre goers, but perhaps it was just the performance I was at. Been So Long certainly deserves a wider, diverse audience.

Been So Long is running at the Young Vic until 15th July 2009 – Booking via their website: Young Vic Website

Review: La Cage Aux Folles

June 19, 2009
La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux Folles

More Than Frocks, Wigs and Dressing Up

Having watched a Channel 4 documentary on Transsexuals entering a beauty pageant in America the night before my viewing of La Cage Aux Folles, perhaps it’s not surprising that I was already in the mind set for glamor and extravagant costumes. La Cage offers this and so much more.

The show reminded me somewhat of a panto, complete with dame and tedious songs, giving that heart warming feeling of memories of my ‘youth’, [ironic considering the nature of this blog]. The set, the singing, even the theatre itself gave off this nostalgia for me. Perhaps it was the style of the show, an almost cabaret… although I’m not a fan of this style… so why do I rate this production well?

Roger Allam as Albi, the star of the La Cage Aux Folles night club, goes beyond the notion of an aging transvestite living her life on the stage. Showing true emotion in the well known song of ‘I am what I am’, being sung after hearing that she is unwanted at the family gathering for the celebration of her son’s engagement, due to her very nature of dressing up and flamboyant self. The stillness and direct delivery of this show tune hits the audience much harder than possibly anticipated. The stark lighting and silence that ripples through the auditorium gave me a moment of goose bumps.

It would be true to say that I was moved. I’ve never understood the nature of the song, and even recall singing it myself once in a ‘talent contest’ whilst abroad, how silly that seems now to the actual context, perhaps a sign of my naivety?

However the song “I am what I am” is not just for this character, for this preference in attire, it is true for everyone.

I feel somewhat proud of who I am. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or age – I’m proud of me, as a person. This was my reaction to this beautiful moment, when Albi tears off her wig, stares into the audience and sings the final note. Chilling.

There were other commendable performances given from Philip Quast playing Georges and Stuart Neal as Jean-Michele, who both kept the balance of masculinity against the femine ‘show girls’.

It’s a pity that the production does not feature the male ensemble dancers more. They bring such grand sparkling energetic dance sequences, that made me want to shout, “more, more!”. When they enact a Moulin Rouge Can-Can dance the true talent of these performers shines. With high kicks worthy of awards, these ensemble boys deserve a show of their own.

However this production touches further afield than the frocks, wigs and dressing up of men as women. It moves beyond the dancing and singing of show girls. It wades into the wider issues of homosexuality and transvestites, and the transformation of man to woman, and ultimately into prejudices against same sex couples.

La Cage Aux Folles might seem like a whole load of fun, but there are certainly deeper issues being addressed. It’s just a shame that there were so many unfilled seats surrounding me in the dress circle… a sign for the future of the show? Let’s hope not.

[So where is my dress and wig? I’ve got some dance moves to practice, because I am what I am.]

La Cage Aux Folles is booking until January 2010 at the Playhouse Theatre.