He’s played God, the Devil, a Bond villain and a Smurf. He’s written a memoir and some children’s books, opened a club and launched a line of perfume. Alan Cumming is quite the shapeshifter, but one gets the impression that cabaret is where he’s most at home.

Certainly the “anything goes” attitude and intimate audience-performer relationship we expect from cabaret are well-suited to Cumming’s vivacious, cheeky-chappie persona. As the metaphorical curtain lifts on Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age, he bounces onto the stage in a dashing grey shorts suit, looking like a slick, fashion-conscious version of Angus Young.

His opening number (“But Alive”, originally sung by Lauren Bacall in the musical, Applause) sets the perfect tone for the show’s age-embracing theme. (“I feel wicked and wacky and mellow / Firm as Gibraltar and shaky as Jello / But alive, but alive, but alive!”)

After some banter around Cumming’s convoluted journey to Adelaide, made difficult by “a young lady called Rona” who stymied international travel, he launches into his own version of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”. The song’s interspersion of spoken reminiscence and chorus line is a kind of condensed version of the show – Cumming likewise alternates his carefully selected show tunes and soulful ballads with lively anecdotes, mostly relating to the joys and pitfalls of ageing.

It’s the style of cabaret that used to take place in low-lit speakeasies, the raconteur cross-legged on a bar stool, smoking heavily between songs. In the Festival Theatre, the intimacy of a cosy bar is lost, but the acoustics make up for it. Cumming’s powerful vocals soar, held aloft by a group of extremely talented musicians. Cello, piano and drums plump the air while trumpeter Josh Chenoweth plays notes that overlap so intricately you could almost be listening to a brass quintet.

Alan Cumming’s joie de vivre is infectious. Photo: Claudio Raschella

The songs are an eclectic mix, from Barbra Streisand’s “Everything” and Adele’s “When We Were Young” to a very cleverly arranged Disney Princess medley (“the gayest thing you’ve ever heard!”), Cumming performs them all with a Broadway panache that is delightful to watch.

The anecdotes are equally entertaining. Who knew that Scrotox (enlarging the scrotum with Botox) was a thing? Or that Sean Connery would need a butt-plug before he would vote Labour? Occasionally the stories are a little over-peppered with celebrity name-drops, but those that reveal universal frailties, like the panicked trip to a dermatologist after finding some peculiar marks in an awkward place, have the audience laughing and nodding in recognition.

The finale is Cumming’s farewell song to Adelaide, “It Was a Good Time” from the film Ryan’s Daughter. (“It was a good time, it was the best time / It was a party, just to be near you.”) It’s a poignant moment and a reminder to make the most of what we have. Cumming certainly has, and his joie de vivre is infectious.

Alan Cumming is Not Acting his Age was presented at the Festival Theatre on Saturday.

See more Cabaret Festival stories and reviews on InReview here.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.