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- Rufus Wainwright »
At some point in time Rufus Wainwright went from being a pretty decent singer-songwriter cut from vaguely similar cloth to his once-estranged father, Loudon Wainwright III, to a grand dame of pop-operatics (poperatics?) who could sell out Carnegie Hall singing Judy Garland covers.
And so it’s this version of Rufus McGarrigle Wainwright who we meet tonight at the Old Vic on London’s South Bank. An audience filled mainly with people who look like they would buy their records at Waitrose - if the aspirational retailer of choice deigned to sell CDs - awaits patiently as the lights go down. Well, you would. The seats are well padded with more leg room than Wembley. Mmm.
Sorry, where were we? Yes, Wainwright. He’s clearly approaching some kind of crossover; latest album Release the Stars got to number two in the charts and all five nights at the Old Vic are sold out. As the red curtain lifts, Wainwright’s band are resplendent in a variety of weird pin-striped pyjamas as they strike up the first notes of Release The Stars’ title track. After a few bars, on strolls Rufus to rapturous applause. He’s dressed ridiculously. Three different coloured pin stripes on his jacket, pants and shirt and wafting an unopened hand fan. Like the fan, the crowd are in the palm of his hands. Well sort of. They mainly just sit there and nod politely. There’s not a lot else you can do in a theatre. You, as Rufus warns people later, “don’t want to break anything”. It really is really rather grand.
Next is ‘Going To A Town’ which draws a smattering of applause and the first shout of “We love you Rufus!” The song, which is a dig at the US Christian Right’s unenlightened view of homosexuality and, well, life, is performed in front of an interesting backdrop – a giant US flag with sequins instead of stars. That’ll show ‘em.
At this point Wainwright turns to the crowd and jokes that, with this being the last night, “it can be the worst show”. He also jokes about a man in Paris mistaking him for Will Young. This makes more sense later when a chap nearby shows friend’s pictures he’s just taken of himself with the Pop Idol winner.
Speaking of celebrities, Sian Phillips, who guested on Wainwright’s fifth album, strolls on stage at the end of the first half to wild applause. Phillips later has the spotlight shone on her in the royal box where she stands up to reveal a freshly-purchased Rufus tee.
As if to prove that there is something in the world camper than covering a Judy Garland concert song-for-song, Rufus emerges for the second half of the show dressed in custom-built Lederhosen with knee-high shorts and braces. He looks RIDICULOUS. But that’s pretty much how he likes it.
The concert itself, away from all the distractions, is as solid as you’d expect from such a consummate performer. Although his voice is so strong (when he does a no-mic version of John McCormack’s _ ‘Macushla’_ you forget he doesn’t have one), there are points during the evening where the splendour of the songs and arrangements blends into one and you find yourself wondering if he’s going to play _ ‘Oh What A World’_.
But that’s the only quibble. As well as a beautiful version of Garland’s ‘Foggy Day In London Town’, Rufus surpasses the Lederhosen by emerging for the encore in a dressing gown, sitting down at the front of the stage, putting on some oversized jewellery and a pair of heels before drifting to the back of the stage. At this point the lights and the audience stand up and ‘Get Happy’ bounces out of the PA as the band stroll on in tuxedos and surround Wainwright as he bounds around the stage in high heels better than most women. It’s bizarre and hilarious, but all done with a big wink and a nudge. Oh, what a world Rufus lives in.
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