On June 14, Rufus Wainwright introduced Toronto to his latest musical work, a collection of Broadway’s best known love duets he called “If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway”. There was a catch, though: these famous love duets were sung by men to each other. It’s fitting, considering that Luminato Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt fashioned this year’s Luminato Festival as being centred around romance, love and sex.
Wainwright isn’t exactly a newbie when it comes to constructing his own productions, having done it before with perhaps his most ambitious project to date: an opera called “Prima Donna”. For “If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway”, he once again took full reins, creating the idea, choosing the songs, writing the script, and then making it all come together with Grammy- and Tony-winning music director Stephen Oremus. Wainwright’s reputation as a solid musician didn’t hurt either, as he managed to wrangle up the likes of Steven Page, Ezra Koenig, David Byrne, Boy George, Josh Groban, Brennan Hall, Brent Carver, and Andrew Rannells.
The songs ranged the whole gamut of Broadway musicals, such as “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma! (with Byrne), “If I Loved You” from Carousel (with Groban), “Sue Me” from Guys and Dolls (with Koenig), and “Old Fashioned Wedding” from Annie Get Your Gun (with Carver). It was an interesting selection of songs that all the men managed to sing fairly well, albeit with some hiccups. Because the songs were originally designed to be sung between a man and woman, the vocal stylings proved to be awkward for a couple of them.
As always, there were highlights, and Wainwright and Boy George stole the show, but for different reasons. Wainwright has an intrinsic ability to take a song and wring every possible emotion out of it, despite not possessing a classically beautiful voice. It’s a bit reedy and nasal but by golly, does he ever make you feel every single word he’s singing. Boy George, on the other hand, has a much more pleasing timbre, which was on display Saturday night. But more than that, he looked good, happy and at peace, which hasn’t always been the case for him in the last couple of decades.
But this is Wainwright’s baby and he birthed what could possibly be a long-lasting gem. The production was slick, tight, at a high quality, and connected with the audience. And when the men came back out on stage to sing Grease‘s “Summer Lovin'”, they couldn’t have ended it on a better note. It was just the kind of cheesiness that comes when you’ve got a stage full of good-looking, well-singing men who truly look like they’re enjoying themselves.