Judy would be tapping her ruby slippers along in delight.
Rowan Collinson 2008-01-18
To call Rufus Wainwright a 'friend of Judy' would, of course, be politically incorrect, but after listening to Rufus Does Judy – his lavish recreation of Judy Garland’s finest hour – it would seem rude to call him anything but.
First recorded in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1961, at time when she had reached a personal and artistic low, the performance became famous for reviving Garland's moribund career, winning 5 Grammys and becoming a byword for showbiz glamour. It’s apt then that Rufus – not exactly known for making subtle musical gestures - should re-create the whole evening in all its glitz and glory. This, lest we forget, is a man who spent the finale of his last UK tour dressed in stockings and mini-skirt singing Get Happy, included here as a bonus track.
Spread over two discs, Wainwright's rendition of the show is bewitching, sometimes bewildering and, more often than not, brilliant. It’s clear Wainwright has not taken the task of performing the tribute lightly. From the orchestral arrangements down to him speaking "where Judy speaks", Wainwright's affection for the show shines through and, save the inevitable key changes, you can barely hear the difference between his spirited renditions of Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart and Putting On the Ritz and the originals.
There are times when the show falls down – mainly on the second disc when Wainwright's pithy asides begin to grate and when he's reduced to playing second fiddle by the rasping tones of Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, on After You've Gone. Sister Martha's rendition of Stormy Weather is better, but still has the slight air of the Wainwright family doing karaoke round the piano. However, the showstopping renditions of Over The Rainbow and If Love Were All make up for this in spades – the latter recast as a plaintive love song for the disenfranchised, made all the more pertinent by Rufus singing Noel Coward's original lyrics.
It's a difficult line to tread between tribute and pastiche, and on Rufus Does Judy, it would have been easy for Wainwright to descend into empty kitsch. Instead, he walks it with considerable aplomb. Judy would be tapping her ruby slippers along in delight.