It has to be said that The Adelaide Cabaret Festival has very much got it’s groove on the last few years. They have always had really great acts, but in the last few years the decision to pursue and present really top notch, A-1, weapons grade Cabaret royalty has elevated it into one of the best festivals in the world and certainly one of the most exciting programmes on the South Australian calendar each year.

Each season they have been bringing world class acts like Kristen Chenoworth, Bernadette Peters and Dita Von Teese to the sleepy city of churches and putting on breath taking, crowd pleasing, exceptionally good performances you might only otherwise see on Broadway or in Vegas. One of the most shiny of this years gems is Scottish actor, singer, author, photographer and one man three ring circus Alan Cumming.

Even if his name is not immediately recognizable, his face certainly is. A long time star of theatre on both sides of the pond (Cabaret, MacBeth) many know him from his career on screens large and small. On TV he played Eli Gold on seven seasons of The Good Wife. On the movie screen he has been a Bond villain (in Golden Eye), a teleporting mutant Night Crawler in X-Men 2, and an array of roles from period dramas (Emma) to beloved kid movies (he is in all of the Spy Kids movies!) and can boast a resume that includes roles in both The Spice Girls : Spice World and Josie & The Pussycats (he plays Wyatt, the unscrupulous manager of The Pussycats and boy band Dujour).

Demand for tickets for this show was crazy and it sold out in double quick time, leading to the addition of a second matinee at 4pm. Frankly he could have done ten shows and sold every one out, because Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs was an utterly glorious show. Backed with a simple three piece band (piano, drums and cello) Cumming takes to the stage and opens with the brilliant Annie Lennox song Why? And before you know it he is smashing new life into The Climb by Miley Cyrus. Between songs he shows himself to be a gifted storyteller and raconteur.

With stories that run a vast emotional gamut from talking about PTSD,  his grandfathers death by Russian roulette, to showbiz lovey darling anecdotes and tales of groin tattoos resulting from incendiary love affairs (“A shagging supernova, but it was like having an all over chemical burn”) you could listen to him tell these saucy tales for days. His Scottish accent is quite broad and unlike many singers he doesn’t suppress that Scottish lilt in song. It’s actually wonderful to have that Celtic twang present and more than once I am reminded of Luka Bloom.

There are songs by Billy Joel (Goodbye Saigon and So It Goes), Rufus Wainwright (Dinner at Eight) and a stunning Mother Glasgow written by Michael Marra but a big hit for Hue & Cry in 1990. Less this sounds all a bit serious, nothing could be further from the truth and musical balance is provided by some laugh out loud songs like the fantastic mash up of Somebody Like You (Adele), Firework (Katy Perry) and Blaze of Glory (Lady Gaga). And a mix of Sondheim musical classics reconfigured to blistering comic effect in a song called No One is Alive When I’m Around. Early in the set he performs an actual condom commercial he made some years ago (with Ricki Lake) for Trojan Ecstacy condoms which is hysterical.

He talks about his estrangement from his abusive father, who the night before Alan started filming his episode of Who Do You Think You Are? informed him that he was not his biological parent. He only touches on the story, but enough to make it clear that his dad was not winning any father of any year awards. He has written a book about that part of his life called Not My Fathers Son, which is now on the top of my book shopping list.

After a hilarious break down of the pantomime of the fake encore, he returns in mock surprise, Martini in hand to tell us a magnificent showbiz story about Liza Minnelli and leave us with Noel Cowards The Ladies Who Lunch. A theatre full of people fell in love with a sexy Scottish man singing Sassy Songs on Sunday and already long for his return.

Review by Ian Bell