When Judy Garland performed her legendary concertat the Hollywood Bowl in 1961 to a crowd of 18,000 people, the sky was darkwith pouring rain. Fortunately, for the fans who packed the Hollywood Bowl last Friday for Rufus Wainwright’s epic recreation of that show, there was nary a cloud in sight. Instead, under a beautifully clear sky lit up by the Bowl’siconic spotlights, Wainwright induced chills of his own as he sang and dancedthrough 31 songs over two acts and an encore.
The show echoed the spirit of Garland’s original performance, with Wainwright bouncing between two personae: The Bubbly Playboy and The Reincarnation of Judy. For starters, I don’t imagine Garland made mischievous eyes when singingthe lyric, “Don’t weep and moan because he’s blown,” during the evening’s secondsong, “When You’re Smiling.” This show was the fourth and final of Wainwright’s Garlandtributes — which he’s already performed in New York City, London, and Paris.
Wainwright spared no energy inreplicating even the tiniest details of the original show — from the copy-catpublicity posters reading “Rufus Wainwright: World’s Greatest Performer” to theexact moments in the set when Garlandpaused to speak. He even walked off the stage to kiss Debbie Reynolds, as Garland once walked downto kiss Rock Hudson.
As a performer, Wainwright did notdisappoint. Taking the stage, he was costumed in a blue velvet jacket,whitepants and an oversize flower brooch, later removing the jacket toreveal a white Tom Ford dress shirt with billowing frills running upthe front. “This (shirt) is bordering on the ridiculous, but so wasJudy — that’s why we love her,” Wainwright explained. Hisover-the-top dance moves — my favorite being a jaunty shoulder shakewith handson the hips — might not land him on Broadway any time soon, but seemedto help him channel his inner Judy. His voice occasionally faltered(especially when hitting the high notes) but his fans were more thanforgiving, understanding the rigorous vocal theatrics necessary to pulloff thesetunes.
Wainwright’s between-songs storytelling, however, was faultless. His first tale,about narrowly avoiding death in the pool at Chateau Marmont thanks to Eightis Enough‘s Betty Buckley, was hilarious. During the twoinstances where his mother, musician Kate McGarrigle, joined him on stage,their caustic yet loving banter made it feel like we were eavesdropping ata Thanksgiving dinner.When McGarrigle proudly proclaimed her greatest onstage accomplishment waswalking to the piano in her high heels, Rufus snidely countered, “Thatdepends on what you call a stage, Mother.” On the second-to-last song of theevening, “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” her piano accompaniment wasinterrupted by Rufus complaining: “Can we do it again? It’s a little low. Iwant to challenge myself.”
To make it even more of afamily affair, Wainwright’s sister,newlywed Martha Wainwright, sang two songs — her mesmerizing renditionof “Stormy Weather,” highlightingher haunting voice. Toward the end of the night, he was visited byroyalty: Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft. Clad in the most intenselybubble-gum pinkdress I’ve ever seen, Luft belted out “Carolina In The Morning” and”AfterYou’ve Gone” with extraordinary dramatics (aided by said gown). Luft’sdramatic costumechoice was upstaged, however, byWainwright’s encore attire: a mid-thigh dress suit,black hat, black tights, high heels, and sparkling earrings — which mimicked Garland’s iconic outfit from 1950’s Summer Stock. After performing “Get Happy,” Rufus handed the stageover to Luft, returning in an outfit that was all Rufus: a zebra-print bathrobe.
Let it be said that theorchestra, ably conducted by Stephen Oremus, never missed a beat. Likewise, the audience seemed to genuinely energize theperformers. Many in attendance were Garlandfans reliving days gone by — a few were at her original Bowl show, making themselves known when prompted by Wainwright.(These older fans also know something about comfort, as evidenced by along line at the seat-cushion rental.) Just as appreciative were theyounger fans of Garland and the openly gay Rufus — who dedicated “ICan’t Give You Anything ButLove” to those members of the 1961 audience who were gay in thoseless-tolerant times. This crowd knew how to have fun; the smell of wineandwhiskey was in the air, as were flying champagne corks. And somewherein themiddle of it all was 21-year-old me with my notebook, soaking it allin.