Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond


September 24, 2007

Rufus Wainwright at the Hollywood Bowl
Photo: Lori Shepler/LAT 2007
It’s hard to watch someone you admire take a fall. Especially when that fall is in the least likely of places. Such was the case this weekend when Rufus Wainwright arrived at the Hollywood Bowl with his much hyped and ballyhooed Judy Garland tribute show. Wainwright made a splash last year when he recapped Judy Garland’s legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall concert in the same venue to commemorate her life and work. He has reprized these shows around the world in other cities Garland visited on that tour, including London and Paris, and Sunday he was joined by his mother, sister Martha, and Lorna Luft to work some of that memory magic here.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that magical. Sure it seemed great on paper – gay icon Wainwright performs the music of gay icon Garland in what is not only a tribute to her legend, but also a tribute of sorts to how much things have changed for gay men and lesbians in the West in the last 40 years or so. How could things go wrong? Well first off, there are the songs. Almost uniformly out of Wainwright’s range, what started out as an amusing parlor trick became nearly painful to listen to by show's end. Even with a little help from his friends, his voice was nothing but a ragged stump when all was said and done. Even when he could hold it together earlier on, he mustered so little power in the upper part of his range that even the sound mixers and amplification were powerless to stop his demolition by the Hollywood Bowl orchestra. While there was no doubt a great deal of fun reliving many of the songs that made her famous, as the evening wore on, it seemed more a reminder of how much was lost with her passing and what a huge talent she really was.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of laughs, particularly Wainwright's returning to the stage for an encore of “Get Happy” in full Garland drag right out of Summer Stock. And, as he himself noted, this was really an evening about fun and in many ways it was. If only it could have sounded a little more like that.

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