Rufus Wainwright spins a little magic in Morristown

Rufus Wainwright at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Rufus Wainwright at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Isn’t it time Rufus Wainwright had a Broadway show?

He’s got that dramatic flair, and the operatic voice, and the ability to hold an audience spellbound–as he frequently did on Sunday at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.

The guy’s done Judy Garland proud at Carnegie Hall, recorded songs for movies (Brokeback Mountain, I Am Sam, Shrek), appeared in films (The Aviator, Heights) and written an opera (Prima Donna).

If he doesn’t have the chops for a hit show, who does?

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Alternating between piano and guitar on Sunday, Rufus, 40, covered all phases of his career, after tossing in a Jersey joke or two.

Admitting he’s “not big on sports,” the the singer inquired how our local teams are doing…then asked who are the local teams.

“The Jersey Turnpikes?”

Rufus sang newer songs like Jericho and Montauk from last year’s Out of the Game CD, and Zebulon, written for his late mother, singer Kate McGarrigle, and Martha, written for his sister, singer Martha Wainwright, from 2010’s All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.

Rufus Wainwright at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Rufus Wainwright at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

For encores, he reached back to early favorites Cigarettes and Chocolate and Poses.  In between, he sang, among other tunes, Going to a Town, Zebulon, Want, Memphis Skyline and Hallelujah, duetting with his sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche, who opened the show.

Lucy, whose mother is Suzzy Roche of the singing Roche sisters, was delightful, with a sweet voice reminiscent of her mom and the self-effacing wit of her dad, folksinger Loudon Wainwright III.

In her opening set, Lucy, 31, recounted telling a friend about a great cover song on her forthcoming album. The friend asked if it’s a rocking number or “another sad snoozer.”  She informed her friend: “I turned a rocking number into a sad snoozer.”

Which, as it turns out, is nothing to apologize about. The fact that I still remember Lucy’s plaintive interpretation of Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend after Rufus’ melodic tour de force says plenty.  (In keeping with the evening’s family theme, Lucy’s dog even took a bow. Wow.)

The siblings had a harder time getting in synch with each other. If Rufus does land a Broadway gig, he may need a teleprompter. He had so many false starts during Pretty Things that Lucy couldn’t stop laughing; finally, they gave up.

Poses posed challenges for Rufus, too. Hey, it’s not easy performing a mini-opera by yourself.  Besides, as he told the audience, he had to drive to Montauk after the show, certainly a distracting thought.

But really, perfection is kind of boring. Rufus Wainwright is all about surprises. Whether he’s nailing a stunningly melodic piano run or searching for a lost chord, the man is entertaining.



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  1. You’ve got to be kidding! I found Rufus’ performance to be insulting, with mistake after mistake, and his own admittance of being distracted by his drive out to Long Island after the show. (Or maybe distracted by filling only half the house.) Why do I care about where he is going and that it is distracting him. My wife and I came out to see Rufus after seeing him in the past, and expected a good performance. (He’s a professional musician with loads of talent.) We paid full price for tickets and a babysitter, and received nothing short of an insulting performance.
    He indeed needs a teleprompter, and I would also highly recommend sheet music, and rehearsal time. (He even told the audience he couldn’t remember the finger positioning, and reminded us that he’s a star.)
    I have written Rufus to request a refund, and heard back from family member Teddy Wainwright: “…we do not give refunds for disgruntled attendees and feel no need to carry on this conversation any further.”
    And a standing ovation? Perhaps out of respect, but not because of a spectacular performance.