Quieting down in the big city
An empty E train. 8:45 PM. Photo: JH.

Early yesterday evening, over at the Urban Center at the Helmsley Palace there was a book party hosted by Edizioni Press and Mayer Rus for Designing the Hamptons; Portraits of Interiors. The book is a large format book featuring 18 projects by the top interior designers practicing in the Hamptons including Jonathan Adler, Simon Doonan, Thomas O’Brien, Waldo Fernandez, Bill Sofield, and Vicente Wolf.

The hosts drew a big crowd including Nina Garcia, Richard Mishaan, Barclay Butera, Celerie Kemble, Somers White-Farkas, Gillian Hearst-Shaw, Arnold Scaasi and Parker Ladd, Carole Guest, Mark Gilbertson, Lucia Hwong-Gordon, Nina Griscom and Leonel Piraino, Thom Filicia, Enrico Bonetti, Dominic Kozerski, Jamie Drake, Tom Flynn, Arthur Dunham, Steven Gambrel, Edmund Hollander, Joe Nahem, Craig Socia, Robert Stilin, and Mark Zeff.

From Designing the Hamptons: Portraits of Interiors
R. Couri Hay, Sharon Bush, and Jeremiah Silva
John Barman, Rachel Hovnanian, and Mark Gilbertson
Tony Ingrao, Randy Kemper, Steven Gambrell, and Chris Conner
Tom Cashin and Jay Johnson
Sydney Masters and Stephanie Cassell
Samantha Cole and Mayer Rus
Michel Witmer and Rita Blitt
Elaine Wrightman and Kelley Carter
Georgina Schaeffer, Alexa Stevenson, Orli Ben-Dor, and Katherine Lagomarsino
Jeremiah Silva and Samantha Cole
Roger Webster and Sharon Bush
Jack Ceglic, Joel Grey, and Barclay Butera
Anthony Iannacci, Allison Weiss, and John Barman
Melissa Berkelhammer, Jonathan Adler, and Simon Doonan
Michel Witmer, Taylor Stein, Heather Cohane, and Mark Langrish
Thom Filicia

Last night and tonight in the Isaac Stern Auditorium (the main auditorium) of Carnegie Hall, Rufus Wainwright performed (and will perform) his version of the famous Judy Garland Carnegie Hall Concert of 1961. It was another Garland “comeback” and the performance was so dynamic, electric and thrilling that it put her back up on top. Eight years later, having fallen long and hard once again, she died at the age of forty-seven in London.

Judy Garland's "comeback" Carnegie Hall Concert in 1961.

The Carnegie Hall Concert, along with The Wizard of Oz and A Star Is Born were the three milestones in a brilliant, if highly neurasthenic career that established her in the minds of some of of the most knowing as the greatest entertainer of the 20th century. Garland could sing, dance, act and play comedy, and when she was performing – and she loved to perform – she was captivating.

The 1961 Carnegie Hall Concert featured more than 26 of the greatest popular American tunes written in the first forty years of the 20th century. Every tune was a standard and so memorably performed that the two-record album became one of the biggest selling albums of the 1960s.

Last night in Carnegie Hall, when musical director Stephen Oremus raised his baton and began the overture from the original Mort Lindsay arrangements for the evening, there were many people in the house who knew every note (and later every lyric) of what they were about to hear.

Garland was only thirty-nine when she performed that comeback concert on April 23, 1961. From the bright eyed and innocent little Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” to victim of drug and alcoholc abuse and the skids of show biz, Garland rescued herself once again, re-kindled her future and brought down the house on that triumphant night in Carnegie Hall. If you’ve ever listened to the album straight through you will personally witness her bringing down the house.

Last night in Carnegie Hall was a different story. It’s a great place to go to a concert. It looks like a concert hall where all the great musicians of the past century have performed triumphantly. Rufus Wainwright filled the place to the top balcony. He had a 26-piece orchestra with conductor in place. He sang the songs in the same order.

I’d never heard or seen Mr. Wainwright before. I knew only that he was a popular singer and son of Loudon Wainwright. I also knew that he was gay because everything I’ve ever seen in print about him mentioned that fact extensively. I assumed that was good for business.

As a performer of Judy Garland musical memorabilia he was very respectful of the artistry that contributed to her triumph that April night forty-five years ago. In anticipation, the audience didn’t know quite what to expect. One of the people in my party half-expected (and was looking forward to) some kind of drag version of the concert. Another had seen the original concert. Both saw neither last night.

Mr. Wainwright’s performance is somewhat stocky. He is ungainly and does not look particularly comfortable moving about the stage. I thought to myself: that’s probably what I’d look like if I were up there moving around. He obviously has no dance background or sense of using his body (hands/arms) to express himself. Although he attempts it, but only with the sensibility of an amateur. Mr. Wainwright, however, we know is not an amateur. He simply lacks her background. Garland, like a lot of great performers actually learned how to do it – how to sing that song or dance it up – either in vaudeville or from parents or from teachers. In her case there were many including, perhaps especially, Kay Thompson at MGM.

The diminutive, terpsichorean little Miss Garland performed with the grace and flutter of a moth daring the flame. When she sang “The Man That Got Away” (which was written for her) with the last line:

“There is nothing sadder than
A one-man woman
looking for the man
That got away ...”

That “sadder” was right up there on the stage; you believed it. When she sang “That’s Entertainment:”

“It might be a scene like you see on the screen,
A swain getting slain
For the love of a queen;
Some great Shakespearean scene
Where a chap kills his father
And causes a lot of bother …”

You saw the scenes as she sang about them, on your way to the circus. So great was her ability to move, to mime, to mimic, to rhyme; so clear was her grasp of the lyric, whatever the lyric, that she could deliver each piece as a separate playlet or comedy. That was her genius.

Mr. Wainwright does not possess that genius. He possesses the great self-confidence to engage in such a conceit as replicating the Garland concert, but he does not possess the vocal ingenuity, the actor’s sense, the dancer’s lightness or the tragedian’s sense of irony.

My aforementioned friends were very disappointed. Judging from the audience’s response, they were two of the few. For the audience loved him. They went wild. There were a lot of people in the house who were familiar with the concert album and knew (I was one of them) all the patter, practically by heart, and which tune followed the last, etc. So when Wainwright took an intermission after “San Francisco,” I was already humming “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” in my head.

A 40th-anniversary recording of Garland's Carnegie performance was released in 2001 by Capitol Records.
A poster for Wainwright's concert mimics the one for Garland's.
Above & below, left: From last night's performance at Carnegie Hall.
Below, right: A portrait of Rufus.

My guess is a lot of the audience, especially those who hadn’t been born until long after Judy Garland has passed on, were not really familiar with the superb material that her managers and music directors had chosen for her program. Because of Rufus Wainwright, they were hearing it for the first time. They heard the hauntingess of Dietz & Schwartz's “Alone Together” and the light and inebriating “You Go To My Head.” They heard language and wit and intoxicating melody all in one package, something that is almost non-existent in contemporary culture.

Mr. Wainwight does have a tendency to dentalize his “s’s” and his “t’s” (someone later told me he has a lisp) which is not such a bad thing per se but somewhat off-putting when you’re hearing it in a song. On the stage. Of Carnegie Hall. In a karaoke bar, okay; but. He also lacks the vocal control that would avoid his singing the Gershwin’s “Who Cares” (“if the sky cares to fall in the sea”) completely flat from beginning to end. Again, the audience didn’t mind. Except for the two on my left.

However, was it fun to watch this man with the chutzpah (it takes chutzpah to attempt to replicate an almost immortal artist)? Yes it was fun. Did he give it his all? I’d say he gave it his all. And did the audience give him a standing ovation? They did. And so ... hey kid, that’s show business.


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June 14, 2006, Volume VI, Number 98
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com