Monday, February 19, 2007

Rufus, Judy. Judy, Rufus.

To the Palladium in the West End for one of 2007's hottest tickets, Rufus Wainwright's recreation of Judy Garland's legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall concert.

The almighty challenge: to out-perform the performers' performer at the performance of her life.

The resounding verdict: a triumph.

Bold, ambitious, arrogant even, to try and claim as his own a concert regarded as one of the crowning glories of showbusiness. But successful? Beyond the wildest dreams of even this over-expectant fan.

The opener, 'When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)', really set the theme: a confident stride on stage, a sure grasp of the music with 40-piece orchestral support, and a song which declares that you're in the performer's hands. This audience was putty, would have joyously done anything he asked. (Anything.)

A less assured singer would have struggled to have taken an audience from the beautiful depths of loneliness ('The Man That Got Away') to the spiteful hysteria of 'San Francisco', which mocks previous singers, but Wainwright had the audience every step of the way, projecting his vulnerable, charming, cocky, lovelorn, outrageous personality into every note.

Wainwright's voice was put through every test it could find and sailed above, treacly raw at some points, commanding and enchanting at others, always his inimitable own. Certainly the up-tempo numbers gave him more chances to show off his vocal facility. He killed with 'That's Entertainment', 'Come Rain or Come Shine', 'Putting on the Ritz' (stepping nimbly over the booby-trapped, mile-a-minute lyrics), and showed off his boyish charm at the same time, acting the songs as Judy did. He went full throttle up and down his range.

The slower songs offered less opportunity for his charm, but he embodied them to their full effect. 'Over the Rainbow', sung perched on the edge of the stage (as Judy), wrought tears for many, without over-dramatisation but with just his wonderful voice, full of the sadness of the trapped Dorothy (and Judy). 'I Can't Give You Anything But Love', dedicated to Wainwright's good friend Teddy Thompson, was plaintive and beautiful. He even offered 'Do It Again' in Judy's register, whereas everything else had been taken down to his.

A guest spot from Wainwright's singer-songwriter sister Martha was revelatory: who knew she had a rich voice perfect for 'Stormy Weather'? None of the breaking anger of her album, just pure chanteuse. Lorna Luft, Judy's other daughter, came on too and deliciously roared her way through.

Judy's versions of these songs are the reference points/unattainable targets for all who come after; her shadow swallows them up. This is why Wainwright's move is so clever: by fully embracing the Judy legend, he acknowledges and negates the implicit comparisons and frees himself for his own go at them.

This concert was not to be Judy (despite his childhood tale of alternating between dressing up as Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West) but to revive her and remind us of her brilliance. His recreation was so faithful that he even 'forgot' the lyrics where Judy did, as the 1961 recording testifies. He gave patter where she did, and he's got a fine sense of rhythm for dancing, quite the nifty mover.

There was no skimping on this attempt: the huge orchestra was led by legendary conductor Stephen Oremus, the outfits were by Viktor & Rolf, the stage was where Judy once sang. The clothes - a gold mirror-ball-esque suit and a grey suit with white school-blazerish edging - were beyond glamour.

We were given the triumph of Judy by the triumph of Rufus, tapping into showbiz legend but making it his own, storming the stage and the songs, and proving that no matter how great the challenge, a great performer will conquer.

1 comment:

Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Speaking of Judy Garland, There is a popular new group on Yahoo called THE JUDY GARLAND EXPERIENCE. They have amazing rare audio files that are changed twice weekly, great photo's, lively discussions, and a membership that not only includes Judy's fan's, but her family members, friends, people who worked with her, author's of Garland biographies, Garland Historians, people who have created and/or directed film and theater projects about her, and many more. The only thing missing is you!
Please check it out.