Rufus Wainwright Really Did Judy This Time

By Anne E. Johnson

To commemorate ten years since he first performed his “Rufus Does Judy” show, which recreates a 1961 concert by Judy Garland, Rufus Wainwright got the gang back together (once again conducted by Stephen Oremus), and put on quite an extravaganza at Carnegie Hall last night.

You know what the best thing is about great musicians getting older? They become even better musicians. Now in his forties, Wainwright sings with more sophisticated emotional nuance and phrasing. And while he no longer has the superhuman breath control of his youth, ten years haven’t diminished either his vocal range or power. What a glorious instrument!

Like all of us, Wainwright’s been through a lot in ten years. He’s seen darkness and joy. His mother died, he got married and became a father, he had his first opera produced. He’s absorbed all those experiences into his understanding of the songs, and somehow it all just makes him more like Judy.

The highlight came in the second half, where any seasoned entertainer knows it belongs: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung while sitting at the edge of the stage (where else would he sing it?) was heart-rending. Ten years ago, his mother, Kate McGarrigle, accompanied this song on piano. Now that she’s gone, Wainwright pointedly used an arrangement with no piano at all.