Artistically thrilling and politically affecting, Rufus Wainwright’s If I Loved You delights at Luminato Festival
Let me be perfectly honest: I have never adored Rufus Wainwright. It’s not that I’ve disliked him, exactly, I have just never really found myself in the same groove when I’ve heard recordings or seem him do a song or two at special events, and have been a bit confounded at how many ardent fans he has. Last night at If I Loved You at Luminato, I finally got it – somewhere between swooning over countertenor Brennan Hall (be still, my heart) and delighting at the sheer brass of Steven Page, it clicked.
If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway was a world premiere show in which all of the Broadway love duets were sung between two men. It’s a simple enough concept, but the execution – at the Sony Centre, in front of an absolutely packed house – wasn’t remotely a sure thing. As it turned out, the show is such a delight that I really hope it makes it on to other cities in other forms. It combines some of the best, most enduring pleasures of a live show – seeing artists work outside of their usual idiom, hearing new duets and ensemble numbers, and interesting arrangements – with exceptional musicianship (in most cases).
Not all of the performers were quite up to Broadway standards. David Byrne, who opened the show, seemed a little lost among all the showtune trills with nary a melody line to be found, though Boy George (!) – of a similar vintage and provenance, looking super cute in pink sneakers – turned in excellent numbers with a slight Satchmo growl that gave me the tingles. Brent Carver, standing in for Andrew Rannells, cured us of even the slightest tinge of regret that Rannells couldn’t make it, and then dreamboat Josh Groban made everyone swoon (which I believe is his official musical job). Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend started out a little rough but found his way, eventually, making a nice contribution to the evening and proving that [insert vampire/sparkle/Rufus Wainright’s wardrobe joke here, ranging from innocent to lewd as you prefer]. Wainwright, in marvelous voice (and commanding stage presence) was a generous duet partner to all, singing all across his range to show his co-crooners to their best advantages.
In seriousness, I found this evening of music both artistically thrilling and politically affecting, and was surprised at how touching and invigorating I found the sight of such musical luminaries – gay, straight, and unspecified – belting out gayly-coded love songs at a mainstream event. I am old enough to remember when Romanovsky & Phillips were a delicious little counterculture secret, singing unabashedly about gay romance, breakups and social issues. Now Rufus Wainwright and Boy George are singing You’re The Top, underwritten by a major corporation, to a crowd of three thousand – and you can’t imagine how sorry you are to have missed it.
If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway played for one night only, 14 June, as part of the Luminato Festival.