Simon Vozick-Levinson
February 15, 2008 AT 12:00 PM EST

Go see Rufus Wainwright live, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get your money’s worth — and then some. The guy worships at the temple of pure spectacle; putting on a show is what he lives for. And his performance last night at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall was extra special for two reasons. First, it was Valentine’s Day, and second, it was the final date of a lengthy world tour in support of last year’s Release the Stars. (“This is the afterparty,” he quipped. “The aftermath, more like it.”) So, over the course of a marathon three-hour concert, my lovely date and I got to see…

  • Stagecraft extremes: Rufus played with a baroque seven-piece backing band in front of an enormous sequin-spangled American flag. Radio City’s pyrotechnic rockets showered Rufus and co. with multicolored sparks several times. In contrast, one early highlight had Rufus performing a humble Irish folk song in honor of John McCormack, the early 20th-century tenor who popularized the tune, without any amplification or backup at all.
  • Costume changes: He opened the show in a lime-green leisure suit covered in sparkly brooches (pictured), then played a second set in lederhosen, a nod to Release the Stars‘ Berlin recording. After another intermission, he came back for a third set in a fluffy snow-white bathrobe — only to don earrings, lipstick, heels, and a hat after a few songs, dropping the robe to reveal a trim blazer and his shapely, pantyhose-clad legs. (More on that later!)

addCredit(“Rufus Wainwright: Serge Thomann/WireImage.com”)

  • Guest stars: The question at a Rufus show is generally,”How many Wainwright family members will we see tonight?” This time,his sister Martha and mother Kate McGarrigle appeared during the encorefor a three-way family-harmony take on Kate’s “Talk to Me of Mendocino.” Then opening act Sean Lennon joined them onstage, which brings us to…
  • Late legends channeled: The robe-clad Rufus next did his heartrending cover of Sean Lennon’s dad’s “Across the Universe,” with Sean on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Extraordinary. Earlier in the show, he’d played a couple of his favorite Judy Garland interpretations as well.
  • Outrageous dance numbers: For the show’s grand drag finale, Rufus did Judy’s “Get Happy” in the aforementioned outfit.Dancing right alongside him were his seven bandmates, all dressed asnuns and doing their best to keep up with the original 1950choreography. Then they returned to their instruments (still in habits)and closed the night with an anthemic “Gay Messiah,” spraying Rufus with Silly String at the song’s climax.

That “Get Happy” routine really needs to be seen to be believed, soa similar performance from last summer is below, though it’s sadlylacking in the nun-costume department. In the meantime, can anyonesuggest another artist who could give you all that at a single show?

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