Rufus Wainwright in London last month.Photo: Getty Images
All right, Rufus, we forgive you for dedicating the quiet, heartbreaking ballad “Pretty Things” at last night’s Gramercy Theatre supercalifragilisticexpialidocious show to a girl. We saw the tank-topped sway-dancer (and lone standee) in the front row during the also-heartbreaking anthem “14th Street,” and we felt her fan-girl rapture, even as her seated friends shifted awkwardly. Still, we prefer that you focus your swoony voodoo on the gay men who understand your lyrical references to seventies porn and antiquing in Oklahoma.
But who are we kidding? Last night’s two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza solidified the pop troubadour, occasional drag queen, hyperarticulate confessor’s all-lifestyles charisma — the sort powerful enough to make at least one dumpy middle-aged woman in attendance proudly squeeze an official tour T-shirt over her dress.
It could be his multiple costumes: a gold pin-striped suit with a shiny kneecap broach; sparkly lederhosen; a chaste white robe; and, finally, in a choreographed tribute to Judy Garland’s Fosse-fied “Get Happy,” a woman’s microjacket, high heels, fedora, and red lipstick. Or it could be his witty, self-deprecating banter. Of the hazy, dramatic lighting: “I feel like I’m in an Antonioni movie!” Of screwing up the dizzyingly complex tempo and piano work in the song “Tulsa”: “Juilliard, here I come! Or should I say ‘Juilliard, there you go!’” Of his Chelsea digs: “I feel like a lounge singer. I live two blocks away from my gig, with a liquor store in between.”
Or maybe the gays and gals squeal because of his tremendous musicianship and sharp songcraft. Blessed with a distinctive, pleasantly nasal tenor that sounds better with each new album, Wainwright is equally casual balladeering at a piano bench as he is with a mike cradled in his palm, Bing Crosby style. And, as last night’s lederhosen made plain, he also has really nice legs. For now, lady Rufus fans, we begrudgingly agree to share. —Justin W. RavitzThe Rufus, On Fire