Life, love and immigrants

Alan Cumming’s latest cabaret show “Legal Immigrant,” presented by the Kauffman Center, is a powerful and moving night of storytelling, laughter, tears, celebration, protest, and, despite current political views otherwise, a welcome reminder of the United States’ true place as a “nation of immigrants.”

Tony-award winning Alan Cumming is one of the most prolific performers today, and it seems almost everyone you talk to has a different “favorite” Alan Cumming role/performance. From his extensive film, television, and Broadway career, he has been X-Men’s Nightcrawler, memorable dance partner Sandy Frink in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, warned us of our children liking jazz music and reefer in the musical comedy Reefer Madness, Cabaret’s emcee, Eli Gold on The Good Wife, host of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre and more. But this latest venture, a cabaret-style show featuring the music of immigrants while telling his own story, is a heartfelt and moving night of laughter, tears, and so much more.

Alan Cumming started the show unapologetically himself, a proud, Scottish-American who exudes sexuality and stage presence. Performing with him were Chris Jego on drums, Kansas-native Eleanor Norton on cello and composer/songwriter Lance Horne leading the trio on piano. Balance was an major issue throughout the first 30 minutes of the show, as the overpowering drums and cello had Cumming struggling to be heard, especially in his softer mid-range. Helzberg Hall’s acoustics, as we all know, are not for rock concerts… they are for catching the most subtle musical moments that less acoustically-sound spaces miss out on. As ears adjusted to the noise-levels of this show, balance was restored more and more as the performance progressed. A simple shell around the drum set, such as the Kansas City Symphony has used during pop series performances, would have made a striking difference here, and Cumming would not have had to struggle to be heard.

The performance was a delightful blending of genres, in true cabaret fashion. Starting with a medley (“mash-up, as the kids call it” joked Cumming) of Mark’s “The Singer,” and the Sondheim songs “Old Friends,” “Not a Day Goes By,” and “Losing My Mind.” In between song sets were funny anecdotal stories and musings from Cumming, about his personal immigration story, his career, and his life in general. The idea of this show came from the recent removal of the phrase “a nation of immigrants” from the website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and in many ways the show served as a call to action against anti-immigration rhetoric, described by Cumming as “racism by another name.”

Cumming was sure to mention the nationalities of every songwriter/composer performed. A brilliant mashup of Marlene Dietrich’s “Falling in Love Again” and Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason” followed, before telling the crowd of what he considers his greatest artistic achievement, opening Club Cumming in NYC, a space for people of all walks of life to feel comfortable and come together. The iconic Peggy Lee number “Is That All There Is” was paired together with his own immigration story, from first seeing New York, to flying back, and being disenchanted with London, to time in Minnesota filming, and so on. Classical trained ears even caught a little bit of the music of Franz Schubert mixed in. Songs from Adele and Taylor Swift were pitted masterfully against those of Edith Piaf and The Proclaimers, as if this programming was a natural flow in and out of different genres, much as our “melting pool” of nationalities in our nation of immigrants.

The entire performance was a roller-coaster of emotions, from tears of laughter as we learned about Alan’s “scrotal aging” realizations as a man in his 50s, sadness as he broke into tears during his performance of “Caledonia” by fellow Scot Dougie MacClean, warm-feelings of childhood as a Disney princess medley of “How Far I’ll Go” and “Part of That World” was magically worked in, and hope for the future past the current administration as the evening concluded with an audience sing-along of “Tomorrow” from Annie.

Kauffman Center Presents
Alan Cumming: Legal Immigrant
Sunday, May 13, 2018
Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108
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