Metro Weekly

‘Rufus Does Judy at Capitol Studios’ Review: Making Studio Magic

Rufus Wainwright returns to once again pay tribute to one of his idols, this time in the studio with an audience of one.

Rufus Wainwright: Rufus Does Judy
Rufus Wainwright: Rufus Does Judy

No, we haven’t fallen through a wormhole to 2006 — Rufus Wainwright really has done Judy Garland again. A recreation of one of the most treasured and iconic live albums ever, Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall is an odd pop culture artifact, not least because it pulled off the amazing feat of becoming iconic itself.

His tribute to Judy was campy and affectionate all at once, with an appearance by his sister Martha lending the album its own Judy-and-Liza moment. The performance and the album that came out of it were hits, and several of those songs are still staples in his live performances.

Wainwright’s fascination with Judy’s most legendary performance gets a second wind with Rufus Does Judy at Capitol Studios (★★★★☆), a record that came out of a studio session performed and streamed with little fanfare last year. On this outing, he brings Carnegie Hall into the recording studio, once again performing numbers from the Great American Songbook, but this time for an audience consisting solely of Renée Zellweger.

Following up his own legendary performance was going to be a tall order — the songs are as inviolable as they are well-known. And on top of that, his distinctive voice has not perceptibly changed in the years since the first recording.

Rather than fastidiously replicate the sound of an orchestral accompaniment as he did the first time around with a 36-piece orchestra, on Capitol Studios Wainwright is accompanied by just a four-piece band.

Unavoidable as it was at the time, Wainwright’s embrace of the sound of a studio recording this time around is one that pays off. So much of the magic of the Carnegie Hall performance lay in how he stepped into Judy Garland’s shoes and lovingly embodied Judy the performer and even trying to capture that sparkle again would have come off as cheap.

Carnegie Hall was a singularly special moment in time immortalized in a time capsule of sorts, but Capitol Studios has a more timeless feel to it. We have heard all these songs before, something that Wainwright is aware of and embraces.

Free of the constraints of live performance and the campy novelty of his previous outing, he delivers them with polish and confidence. The difference is clear from the beginning, as he bursts out of the gate with “Come Rain or Come Shine” sliding effortlessly back into the role of Judy and getting lost in the song’s transcendent bombast.

He has made standards like “Over the Rainbow” his own to the point where he could probably perform them in his sleep, and the songs here are predictably, almost boringly flawless. With the benefit of the studio, he is able to absolutely milk classics like “The Man That Got Away,” making love to the microphone in a way that would have made Judy proud.

There are very few surprises on the record by design, but one exception that stands out for all the right reasons comes when Wainwright briefly shares the spotlight. He makes an excellent choice in pairing up with Kristin Chenoweth to deliver a rendition of the classic Judy-Barbra duet “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy.” Wainwright and Chenoweth, who take Judy and Barbra’s parts respectively, are magnetic, their intimate performance enough to make the album worth the price of admission.

Even over a decade later, Judy at Carnegie Hall is a tough act to follow, but somehow Wainwright has pulled it off for a second time. Going it mostly alone with only his band and Zellweger’s silent presence in the studio for company allows him to deliver a focused, meticulous and intimate take on her setlist.

To ask why he chose to do Judy Garland again at all would be begging for a cynical answer, but his love and respect for her is undeniable. He understands better than most that Judy Garland and her most career-defining performance still have much to offer to fans old and new.

Rufus Does Judy At Capitol Studios is available to purchase and stream starting Friday, June 10. Rufus Wainwright is currently touring the US and Canada. Visit

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