Monday, December 12, 2016

Alan to the Max at The Met Museum

Alan Cumming in Max and Alan
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
(photo: Stephanie Berger)

A tycoon, a trapeze artist, a nightclub owner, a sailor. German Expressionist Max Beckmann saw himself as an actor on the stage of life and often painted himself in disguise. Tony Award-winning Alan Cumming has created this personal musical work drawing on his own experience as an émigré to New York, channeling an artist who fled his native land after he was famously denounced as a "degenerate" by the Nazis. Beckmann died just sixteen months after arriving in New York, suffering a fatal heart attack while on his way to The Met. This MetLiveArts commission is inspired by the artist's all-too-brief time in New York. --
from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

Cumming with Beckmann's Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket (1950)
(photo: Stephanie Berger)

I have never had the good fortune to see actor Alan Cumming perform in a cabaret--or in Cabaret, sadly. So, I can't say for sure, but if he lets loose in more intimate spaces the way he let loose in Max and Alan, his one-night-only performance at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, he should be declared a vital national energy resource. We need him now--and not only because, politically-speaking, Cumming always fights the good fight.

Responding to the Met's wonderful Max Beckmann in New York show (on view through February 20), Cumming brought a startling portfolio of songs performed with the vibrant, versatile trio of Lance Horne (piano), Eleanor Norton (cello) and Alon Ilsar (percussion). His selections evoked a life lived head-on despite risk, conflict or doubt. The Scottish émigré clearly, often amusingly, identifies with Beckmann: "We quite like degenerate things in Scotland," he quipped.

In his statement for the show, Cumming wrote:
And of course we are bound by our connection and connected by our bond, to the era of the Weimar Republic, that supernova moment when art and sex and satire and politics all sidled up alongside each other and sparked so impossibly brightly for a few electric years. He was there. He was in it. I am merely a disciple, a conduit by proxy.
Kurt Weill, expected guest at Cumming's party, kept company with Miley Cyrus ("Wrecking Ball") and Kate Bush ("This Woman's Work"). Friedrich Hollaender's wistful "Falling in Love Again," approached with a rare delicate touch, was there along with Jerry Herman's button-bursting gay anthem, "I Am What I Am," from La Cage aux Folles. Between songs, Cumming offered insights into Beckmann's paintings, his loves, his world.
A song of love is a sad song, hi-lili, hi-lili, hi-loA song of love is a song of woe, don't ask me how I know.
It all culminated in an encore, the ominous "Mad World" (Tears for Fears), with the singer taking Horne's place at the piano. That was to be expected. In early November, Cumming had written a brooding piece in his blog on the prospect of our election ending disastrously.  Now, like all of us, he had much on his mind.

As a singer, Cumming is ever the masterful actor, using face and body as channels for a prodigious force called from I know not where, simultaneously blazing bright and blazing dark. Even the suddenly flashed, dimpled grins possess the gathered tension you see in his arms and hands as he plunges his whole being into lyrics and, for godsake, delivers them. The voice just whips out and lashes. You reel back, expecting to go away exhausted by his entire effort. Instead, you end up curiously exhilarated.

Or, at least I did. After the show, I subway-ed downtown to my Santacon-invaded East Village, feeling mentally sharp and strengthened for battle.

Thank you, Alan, so very much.

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