Alan Cumming On ... US Citizenship & a Blue CarDate: 1 September 2009
Scotsman Alan Cumming returns to the West End musical stage for the first time in over 15 years with the UK and European premiere of his one-man show I Bought a Blue Car Today, which runs for eight performances only this week at the Vaudeville Theatre.
Cumming's recent stage credits include headlining the West End revival of Martin Sherman’s Bent in 2006 and playing Dionysus in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of The Bacchae at the Edinburgh International Festival and at London’s Lyric Hammersmith in 2007.
His early stage credits include extensive work at the Tron Theatre and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, and, in London, Conquest of the South Pole, La Bete, Hamlet and Accidental Death of an Anarchist, for which he won an Olivier for Comedy Performance of the Year. He’s best known by theatregoers for Sam Mendes’ 1998 Donmar Warehouse revival of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, which transferred to Broadway, where he won a Tony Award for his performance as the Kit Kat Klub’s emcee.
Since then, his stage work in the US has included Design for Living, Elle and The Threepenny Opera. His film credits include Sweet Land, Spy Kids, X2, Nicholas Nickleby, Titus, Eyes Wide Shut, Emma, Circle of Friends, Annie and Ant Bully.
Cumming has been cast as the Green Goblin in the stage musical of Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, which is due to receive its world premiere in March 2010 at Broadway’s Hilton Theatre. However, in August, work on the estimated $35 million musical, directed by Julie Taymor and featuring a score by Bono and The Edge, was put on hold because of financial difficulties.
The Lincoln Centre in New York gets people to do concerts every year for this American Songbook Series. I always secretly desired doing something like this but backed away from it. Then my management said, “they want you to do this thing, do a couple of performances, they’ll pay for all the arrangements and you’ll have a show”. So I did it.
You think “oh, that sounds fine”, but then you actually have to do it. I was working with (musical director) Lance Horne choosing the songs, and at the same time I was in the final stages of becoming an American citizen. That, and my ten years living in America, sort of shaped the show. The title comes from something I had to write down in my citizenship test. You get quizzed on things like American history, but you also have to prove you can speak, read and write English. They say a sentence to you and you have to write it down. The sentence I got was “I bought a blue car today”. Initially, I thought it was really sweet, and then I thought it was ghastly; it’s about consumerism and cars ... it’s all the things that are wrong with America in one sentence, actually!
Performing is nerve-wracking. Even if you’ve done it for years and years, it’s still scary to expose yourself that way. And singing makes me quite nervous too. In this, there’s no character that I’m hiding behind. I mean, it’s a whole evening of just me. It’s great in terms of the connection you have with the audience because you are being very real and personal, and when those sorts of things work, they work very well.
I first performed the show in February in New York, and it went down a storm, actually. Then I did it in Sydney at the Opera House. I’ve only actually done this show six times: two shows in New York and four in Sydney. When I came home from Sydney, where it had gone really well, I felt a bit euphoric. I really enjoyed it. I made a record of it that’s coming out in September, and I thought, yeah, I really would like to do that again, I’d like to get better at it. Then this came up with London, and it was all good. Of course, now I’m terrified and wish I’d never done it!
There are a couple of new songs in the show. There’s one I’m really enjoying singing called “Taylor the Latte Boy”. It’s about falling in love with the boy who works in Starbuck’s. Then Lance and I wrote a song called “Next to Me” that’s new to the show. I also do a song called “Don’t Tell Me” that Lance wrote - rather bizarrely - about an ex-boyfriend that we both share.
Lance is a great composer. In addition to the show, we’re holding a one-off late-night performance of his music at the Vaudeville as a benefit for the National AIDS Trust. It’s great to introduce people to Lance’s music. His songs are great, with so much character, and we’ve got loads of great people coming to sing them, including Hannah Waddingham and Julie Atherton.
- Alan Cumming was speaking to Terri Paddock
I Bought a Blue Car Today runs for eight performances only from 2 to 6 September 2009 (preview 1 September), and is billed as “a musical journey peppered with material by Frank Sinatra, Dory Previn, Kander & Ebb and Cyndi Lauper, to name only a few”. Following the show’s performance on Thursday 3 September, Notes Unleashed: The Music of Lance Horne takes place at 11pm.