Alan Cumming rolled into the Highline Ballroom on Sunday night with I Bought A Blue Car Today, a new one-man show that was ostensibly about his naturalization as a U.S. citizen yet was somehow almost aggressively Scottish. The Highland burr was so thick in places--both in banter and song--it seemed the Tony Award winner was having a go at The Simpson’s character Groundkeeper Willie.
Cumming is one of our most versatile actors--get ready for his Adolph Hitler in the upcoming Jackhall in Whiteboots--and has surely mastered the American voice, so while he paid lip service to the land of the free, and stopped just short of covering Neil Diamond’s "Coming to America," it was in a voice that was pure Scotch.
Cumming unassumingly walked out onto the Highline stage in simple black trousers, a slate gray dress shirt, and skinny tie. He had no introduction and perhaps didn’t need one. The "tea service" that one critic pointed out as visible in his painted-on Isaac Mizrahi pants during his last turn in New York as Threepenny Opera’s Macheath was kept under wraps, though he did doff his shirt to reveal a de rigueur Chelsea wifebeater (white t-shirt). Brecht’s epic theater was noticeably absent on the bare stage with just a few black and white balloons, which looked like they were leftover from another event, bouncing off the ceiling, but Cumming had all the support he needed in his tight, six-person backing band.
He kicked things off with an inspired medley from Hedwig and the Angry Inch and then explained that show to the audience in a way that may be necessary during some of this tour’s more middle-western stops, but certainly was not in the birthplace of Hedwig. After the medley, he joked, "I, myself, have never had a botched sex change operation," but then added, "The night is young." From there, Cumming launched into extended banter about his Threepenny co-star that seemed to omit nothing except his excellent cover of Cyndi Lauper’s "Shine" from the I Bought A Blue Car Today record. The story centered around his panic-attack laden Threepenny performance on the Tony Awards, which Lauper pointed out turned up that year because there were only three musical revivals and "they had to nominate us."
It seemed a little disingenuous to spend so much time haranguing the current state of the great white way--big ticket Hollywood actors going into crap plays and the like--while simultaneously preparing to go up in the Spiderman musical early next year. Cumming neglected to preview any of his vocal stylings as Spidey, or even mention the show at all. New York may be his home now, but the fact is it’s only a one-night stand for the tour, which played eight shows at a much larger venue in Los Angeles. Cumming is, quite empirically, a Hollywood star, which made his sermon about Broadway seem a bit like Diane von Furstenberg stumping to save her new meatpacking district home. These "solutions" are kinda part of the problem.
Still, with inspired fare like his percussive-attack take on Cabaret’s "Mein Heir" or the frothy, sweet paean to his local Starbucks barista called "Taylor the Latte Boy," I Bought A Blue Car Today is no lemon. The show takes its title from a sentence on Cumming’s U.S. entrance exam and celebrates his arrival as an American. Cumming makes it easy to get into the party mood and his show’s perfect moment comes courtesy of a ballad from the musical Chess. Both audience and performer find themselves in glorious alignment for both the sentiment and the stunning, grindhouse take on "Where I Want To Be."
by Alan Cumming