Rufus Wainwright at Carnegie Hall: More Rainbows Than Stormy Weather

June 16, 2006 4:58 PM ET

>The concertmaster drew applause when he came onstage to tune the 36-piece orchestra. The conductor garnered cheers. The star himself nearly got a standing ovation just for making the walk to the microphone. It was the second of Rufus Wainwright's two sold-out shows recreating the entirety of Judy Garland's 1961 album Judy at Carnegie Hall, song-for-song, stage patter included, original Billy May and Nelson Riddle arrangements altered only slightly for the occasion to accommodate Rufus' voice. It was part performance and part performance art, and who cares if it was better as the latter? Well, I care — more than a few of the songs remained out of Wainright's range, and is it really a good idea to mount two nights at Carnegie Hall recreating the most beloved recording of one of the most beloved gay icons and not have the running order or lyrics down cold? Garland's voice had a way of turning everything, even a torch song, into a parade; Wainwright's is more lugubrious (his word, not mine), and has a way of turning everything, even the high-stepping numbers, into a processional.

As an idea, these concerts were audacious. As a reality, they were full of gay pride (a welcome thing in a city were a drag queen received a broken jaw from a gang of our more hate-filled citizens the previous weekend) and occasionally brilliant music: Rufus singing "Over the Rainbow," the song that got him into Judy at Carnegie Hall as a child; his sister, Martha, tearing up "Stormy Weather" as though her life depended on it, which was the Garland way of doing everything; Wainright dedicating a delicate and heat-filled "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" to his aunt; and Rufus joined by his mother, Kate McGarrigle, for a version of "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," not on the Garland album and arranged more like a Rufus Wainwright song, thank God.

Can an evening of imperfect music be perfect? Apparently so. The crowd — pretty well-heeled and looking a decade or two older than Wainright's 32 years &8212; was rapturous, celebrating themselves and the event as much as the singing. Garland's voice always carried with it triumph over tragedy and inevitability of even more tragedy; it was enough for this night to dispense with the tragedy almost altogether and just go for the triumph.

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