La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Luminato 2014 ends with Triumphant Gender-bending Song Fest

If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway
An Evening of Love Duets

Rufus Wainwright
Josh Groban
Brent Carver
David Byrne
Boy George
Ezra Koenig
Steven Page
Brennan Hall
Steven Oremus, Music Director
June 14th, 2014  7:30 pm
Sony Centre, Toronto

The electronic billboard of If I Loved You in the lobby of Sony Centre

For my money, Luminato 2014 saved its best for last - well, not quite the last but the pentultimate day of the Festival - with Rufus Wainwright's If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway.  It was billed as an evening of love duets with a twist - Broadway show tunes meant for heterosexual romance are sung here by men and for men. Who could be more appropriate to create such a show than the inimitable Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright?  After all, he told Martin Knelman of the Toronto Star that his boyhood dream was to play Annie on Broadway. For this show, he has gathered an "A list" of male singers to appear with him - Josh Groban, Brent Carver, and Boy George among them. It was sold out, no mean feat given the cavernous size of the Sony Centre.

Rufus Wainwright

The pre-show atmosphere was electric, with a a real sense of occasion.   Right after the orchestra's introductory medlay, Wainwright came on and sang "I hate Men" from Kiss Me Kate.  Well that sure got everyone's attention! The first half ended with "If I Loved You" from Carousel.  In between, there were many memorable moments, such as the nice duet between Wainwright and David Byrne of "People Will Say We're in Love" from Oklahoma, even if Byrne had a bit of an off night vocally. It was great to see (and hear) Brent Carver as a late replacement for Andrew Rennalls, singing a song from Funny Girl.  It was a glitzy evening that could become rather stiff and overblown, but that didn't happen thanks to the warmly funny and endearingly relaxed Wainwright and the good will from the audience.  For me, the true highlight was the duet between Wainwright and Josh Groban in "If I Loved You" - hearing all eight vocalists back to back, it was obvious that Groban has the most amazing set of pipes among them - Bravo!

(l. to r.) Steven Page, Josh Groban, Boy George, Brent Carver, Brennan Hall, David Byrne, Rufus Wainwright

The set was simple but it did the job, with four floor-mounted columns and twelve squares of LED lights suspended from the top.  The staging was also quite minimal - basically everyone just stood and sang, which was enough for the highly appreciative audience. Technically it went well except for one instance - in the "Wunderbar" duet between Wainwright and countertenor Brennan Hall, Hall's mike wasn't on. They started again from the beginning and it sailed through without any further glitches.  I had not heard Brennan Hall before, but I've heard plenty of countertenors in opera. I must say Hall has just a remarkable and very beautiful countertenor, and I would love to hear him on the opera stage in the future, without amplification. 

Final Bows (l. to r.) Ezra Koenig, Steven Page, Josh Groban, David Byrne, Rufus Wainwright, Brent Carver, Boy George, Brennan Hall

I was curious about Boy George, who was of course a mega-star from the 80's and is apparently still going strong. Based on this evening, the voice itself was sounding a little tired and grainy - possibly from jet-lag - but his out-sized personality was much in evidence and his "My Man's Gone Now" was a highlight.  Of course one of the funniest moments was Wainwright and George in Cole Porter's "You're the Top."  Wainwright said to the audience that the other singers didn't want to do this number with him, and Boy George dead-panned "I'm versatile!" This was also Boy George's birthday, and a small cake was wheeled on stage and the audience joined the singers on stage for a round of "Happy Birthday".
Boy George having his Cake and Eat it too!

A touching moment was the singing of "Somewhere" from West Side Story with the whole cast - it was as close to a political statement as it got in the whole show.  (In the TimesTalks interview, Wainwright expands on his thoughts about the significance of this show in gay culture and politics.) The guests were mostly great, but it really was Wainwright's show and he shone, particularly in "Can't Stop Loving that Man". The large orchestra under the inspired musical direction of Stephen Oremus was fine. This show is supposed to be repeated in the future, and I am sure the various agents and presenters are feverishly working on it right now. Incidentally, someone at TimesTalks interview I attended the next day asked if a soundtrack would be released from the show.  Wainwright replied a future performance may be taped for release but not the Toronto show - too bad.  

TimesTalks (l. to r.) Josh Groban, Rufus Wainwright, Jon Pareles

Based on the comments from the interview, those people who missed the show may be able to catch it in the future, likely in New York or London.  And if you missed the interview - well, you are in luck! It has been posted on Youtube in the Luminato channel, at  Enjoy!

- Joseph So

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