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Eclectic pop singer Rufus Wainwright bridged musical generations on Wednesday with a daring re-creation of Judy Garland's legendary 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall. Wainwright took the stage to thunderous applause from the sellout crowd and launched straight into the first number, "When You're Smiling."
The Canadian crooner said, "We're not in Kansas anymore, we're in New York"--a play on the memorable line from the Wizard of Oz movie, which launched Garland's career. Backed by a 40-piece orchestra, Wainwright then restaged the monumental concert often called the greatest single night in show-business history.
Garland's double album, Judy at Carnegie Hall, won two Grammys, including Album of the Year, and became her best-selling record, made when she was 39. Wednesday's show was the first of a sold-out two-night run.
Among some two dozen numbers were classics such as "Do It Again," "That's Entertainment!" and "Puttin' on the Ritz." But it was the songs most closely associated with Garland--"San Francisco," "The Man That Got Away," "The Trolley Song," "Swanee," "Chicago," and her signature, "Over the Rainbow," that drew the strongest response.
Wainwright's dreamy, reedy tenor marked an arresting counterpoint to Garland's throaty belting. Wainwright, like Garland, made it a family affair. He performed with his mother, Kate McGarrigle, his sister Martha, and Garland's daughter Lorna Luft, who appeared for a duet rendition of "After You've Gone." Liza Minnelli, Garland's other daughter, did not appear onstage.
Wainwright spoke often of Garland's influence during the performance, which was filmed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. "When I was a kid I wanted to be Dorothy," he said. He cracked at one point, "I'm going to speak now, because on the album Judy speaks here." When a light malfunctioned, he joked, "This didn't happen in the original."
Garland's Carnegie Hall concert was one of several comebacks throughout her troubled life, which ended with her death in 1969 at 47. Not long before the show she had nearly died from hepatitis and was told her career was over. The Carnegie Hall performance defied that prognosis and spawned a 16-city U.S. tour and years of sold-out concerts.
Stars in the audience 45 years ago included Rock Hudson, Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Henry Fonda. On Wednesday, Sarah Jessica Parker, Joel Gray, director John Waters, Gina Gershon, and designer Patricia Field were among the fans who gave Wainwright several standing ovations.
"I did feel a real connection to Judy Garland and did really commune with her," Wainwright said at the show's end. It was clear from the ecstatic response that the thousands who attended felt the same way. (Chris Michaud, Reuters)