House of Rufus - Rufus does Judy!

Rufus Wainwright
Royal Opera House
(2011)

Rufus Wainwright

The Royal Opera House has never has never played host to a residency by a solo artist before, so with House of Rufus, the ever-theatrical Rufus Wainwright makes a little bit of history.

Over five nights Rufus invites Opera House audiences to join him as he sings with his sister Martha, father Loudon and performs a concert version of his opera Prima Donna and Rufus does Judy! As the title suggests, the Judy show sees Wainwright powering his way through Judy Garland classics from her iconic Carnegie Hall show.

Wainwright first recreated Garland's show back in 2006 before releasing an album of his take on the Judy show. As he chats to the audience onstage at the Opera House he wittily recounts his first version of the show and promises that he's no longer running that 'marathon'. Instead, he is offering us a collection of the songs which most connect to him.

For just under two hours Wainwright powerhouses his way through a collection of pop and jazz classics from Gershwin, Schwartz and Noel Coward amongst others, accompanied by the impeccable Britten Sonfonia. Never taking himself too seriously, Wainwright crosses himself and looks to the heavens before throwing himself into Come Rain or Come Shine and wipes his brow following a medley of You Made me Love You, For Me and My Gal and The Trolley Song.

Listening to his interpretation of these classics, it becomes obvious just how much they have influenced his own songwriting. He has a big heart, tackles massive emotional issues and isn't afraid of mixing pop melodies with Broadway, jazz with a (generous) dash of camp. It's the quieter moments that illuminate during this set however. A heartfelt rendition of I Can't Give you Anything but Love showcases the heartfelt lyrics through his distinctive voice.

As a whole package, the show itself is quite low-key, with a laid-back Wainwright narrating his way through the evening. We are treated to a song from his talented sister, Martha, who sings a gutsy rendition of Stormy Weather. There are no big theatrics or dazzling dance numbers. Instead, Wainwright rightfully focuses on his voice and the soulful music. Saving Over the Rainbow until last was the perfect move - his interpretation is a moving highlight of a tremendous evening. Let's hope the Opera House make a habit of inviting solo artists to perform ambitious residencies like this one.

"House of Rufus" runs until 23 July 2011

Reviewer: Terry O'Donovan