Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall

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If Release the Stars displayed Rufus Wainwright as a weary, wannabe expatriate who was (in his own words) "so sick of America," then Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall -- released just seven months later -- shows him falling in love with the country all over again. Few things are as American as the American Songbook, which Wainwright tackles here with energy, camp, and a sly wink. Reprising the entirety of Judy Garland's 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall, he regains much of the momentum that was lost in Release the Stars' slower moments, performing live with a brisk 36-piece orchestra and several family guests. Perhaps there are people better suited to this task than Wainwright, singers who more closely embody the innocence that Garland always seemed to radiate in spite of her growing addiction to booze and Benzedrine. But Wainwright is obviously enamored with Garland -- who, in addition to her role as one of America's greatest female entertainers, has also become an enduring icon in postwar gay history -- and he revels in the glamour and glitz of her 45-year-old set list. These songs hail from a golden era dotted with trolley cars, Cadillacs, and glitzy jazz clubs, an era in which Wainwright never lived but still has the ability to convey. The secret rests in his vocals, which rise and fall between notes with all the smoothness of a slide guitar. Steeped in opera music and Tin Pan Alley tunes, Wainwright doesn't fall prey to the trappings of a contemporary pop singer, but rather comes across as someone much older. He sings in a fail-safe tenor with colorful vibrato, unafraid to tackle several songs in their original keys and rarely, if ever, missing a note. His infrequent mistakes are mostly lyrical or rhythmic in nature -- a flubbed line here, a botched intro there -- and they're met with applause from the audience. So while the performance isn't perfect, particularly toward the end of the show (where, after two hours of performing swing tunes and jazz standards, Wainwright is understandably low on steam), it's still nice to hear the singer in his element, crooning about dinging trolleys and zinging heartstrings with flamboyancy that only he can muster.

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