Mark Rudio

An immigrant with balls

Mark Rudio
An immigrant with balls

Apparently there isn’t anything Alan Cumming can’t do well. Extremely well. He’s had tremendous success as an actor in film, theater, and television. He runs a successful nightclub in New York City. He’s written books. He’s married a woman. He’s married a man. And over the past couple of years, he’s developed two successful cabaret/concert shows, Sappy Songs and Legal Immigrant. Sometimes he’ll do more than one of these things in a single day, like shooting an episode of a tv show during the day and performing on stage that evening. This guy gets shit done, and gets it done well. He’s smart, funny, and very, very charming. I kind of wish he was the president. Can you imagine how much fun that would be instead of our current shitshow?

However, Alan Cumming can’t be our president because he’s an immigrant. He’s only been a U.S. citizen for ten years. He says he’s been reflecting on those ten years, and on what immigrants have contributed to America (especially in song), and on how America’s current hostility to immigrants is about the most un-American thing imaginable. He shares these thoughts by singing songs interspersed with snappy, warm, witty, revealing, filthy, funny anecdotes about his own life and experiences, plus some very pointed and spot-on political upper cuts. He calls the show Legal Immigrant, which is really just a so-so name. A better name would be “I’m Alan Cumming and I’m here to entertain and inspire you. And I’ll succeed because I’m an immigrant and that’s the American way, my fellow Americans!” And succeed he did at the Music Center at Strathmore last night, where he had the audience pretty much eating out of his hand from the moment he strode on stage dressed like a bespoke Artful Dodger.

In the past, a show like Legal Immigrant might have felt slightly provocative, but in times like these it feels like a salve. T he crowd was a strange mix, with an almost equal balance of young and old, straight and gay, decked out with sartorial flair or donning suburban drab, with the older, drabber set slightly outnumbering the bright young things, at least in the orchestra section. It wasn’t a sellout, but Strathmore holds nearly 2000 people at capacity and the majority of seats were occupied. (Three side notes here: that’s an excellent crowd for a Wednesday night show; it’s a demographic mix most concert halls keep trying to hit and mostly fail to attract; and doing a cabaret-style show in a venue of this size is extremely hard to pull off, but Cumming made it look easy, despite some over amplification).

The audience ate up Cumming’s anecdotes about his naturalization ceremony, his sagging testicles, his explanation of the Scrotox solution (for the record, he declined treatment), followed by a pitch for testicular self-exams. He shared about that time he had to hold on to Jessica Lange’s breast, and that time when Amy Sedaris bit his finger, and that time when he broke his vegan diet by swallowing a pill of dried placenta because why not? He also made a pertinent point by acknowledging he would never be where he is today if his native Scotland hadn’t prioritized making education and training for the arts available to people of humble means, contrasting the Scottish way with American spending on national defense. Think about that - we could have more soldiers, or we could have more citizens like Alan Cumming. The choice is ours, America.

As for the music, the selections were delightfully all over the place. Cumming doesn’t have a beautiful voice, but it’s powerful and shows off his theater experience with commanding results. He sings standards made famous by icons like Edith Piaf, Peggy Lee, and Marlene Dietrich with the same level of commitment and sincerity he gives to a song from “The Little Mermaid.” Songs by Pink, Adele, Kander & Ebb, and Sondheim all fit together to weave a narrative addressing loneliness, success, losing friends, and getting older. He closed the show with a moving song about living in the moment (written by music director Lance Horn), followed by Annie’s “Tomorrow.” Somehow Cumming managed to turn the latter into a genuine, heartfelt anthem, with the entire audience singing along - a feat I think only Taylor Mac could accomplish with equally satisfying results. There was no way not to smile, and join in.