Interview: Justin Elizabeth Sayre Hosts NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS at Joe's Pub

The June 3rd pride month event will benefit LGBTQ youth by fundraising for the Ali Forney Center

By: May. 28, 2024
Interview: Justin Elizabeth Sayre Hosts NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS at Joe's Pub
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The 12th annual Night of a Thousand Judys – a Pride concert benefitting The Ali Forney Center written and hosted by Justin Elizabeth Sayre – will be performed at Joe’s Pub on Monday, June 3 at 7 pm, followed by a VIP post-show reception. The Ali Forney Center is the nation’s largest agency dedicated to helping LGBTQ homeless youth. (Even if you can't make the event, you can still donate to the Ali Forney Center to support their mission.)

Night of a Thousand Judys will honor the iconic Judy Garland with songs from her legendary career as movie star, recording artist and stage performer. The show is directed by Peter James Cook and choreographed by Jason Wise, featuring Drew Wutke as the event’s music director. The show is produced by Dan Fortune and Adam J. Rosen, with Dan Fortune serving as executive producer.

The night will feature performances from Grammy Award winner Nathan Lee Graham (TitaníqueZoolander), Tony Award nominee Grey Henson (Mean GirlsShucked), Grammy Award winner Nicole Zuraitis (2024’s “Best Jazz Vocalist”), Antwayn Hopper (A Strange LoopThe Life at Encores!), violinist and vocalist Edmund Bagnell (Well-Strung), Tammy Faye Starlite (Nico: Underground), Tim Hughes (Sweeney ToddHadestown), Gabrielle Beckford (original Broadway cast of Once Upon a One More Time), and The Boy Band Project (“Good Morning America”).

We spoke to Justin Elizabeth Sayre about the evening, what inspired it, and why the Ali Forney Center is so important.

How would you describe A Night of a Thousand Judys?

I like to think of it as an ‘invocation’ rather than a tribute. Every year we invite the best of Broadway and Downtown to come and celebrate the greatest of all gay icons just in time for pride. What I think makes the show so different, and so endlessly fascinating, is that we really ask each of the performers to bring their own sense of the song. It’s about seeing the best performers from around New York grappling, live on stage, with the legacy of this true iconoclast. I love seeing which directions each year’s performers take us in. It makes what otherwise could be a very static evening brim with vitality. We’re dealing with Judy. We’re bringing her with us. We’re honoring what she was and what she inspires us to be. 

How did you first discover Judy Garland? What do you love about her?

I think like most people it was probably The Wizard of Oz, but I remember very quickly following this wonder of a human into a dozen or so other films. The voice, the raw emotion, the sense of play, the beauty, it all meant a great deal to me, from even my first viewing. As I grew, so did my appreciation for Garland, especially in terms of live performance. She gave it all to her audience. She communicated with them fully. Giving her heart, her mind, her enormous talent. I think in that way, Garland continues to be a hallmark for me. On my writing desk, I have a candid shot of Garland, taken at a concert in 1965. The arm is raised, the mouth almost quivering with emotion. She’s handing them her heart. I love it. She’s a constant inspiration. 

Why is it important to you to support the Ali Forney Center?

Whether we all choose to admit it, the LGBTQ community is under assault. From politics to the pulpit, we are, as we have been for the last 60 years, the scapegoat and the great vilified “threat” to the straight white male majority. The great difference is these violent attacks are set against a supposed ease one would find by looking at our media. Yes, we’re in more movies and television, but violence towards our community is on the rise across the board. Our rights, our personhood are more often than not up for public debate. And the people who most often bear the brunt of this fight are young people. Young LGBTQ people are still kicked out of their familial homes. Still tossed aside by the people who should love them most. Still discarded by a society that on one hand celebrates them, and on the other reviles them. But who is doing something for them? Who is standing up for them? The Ali Forney Center is. That’s why we fight. That’s why 12 years into this event, we’re only just beginning.

What are you most excited about for this year’s show?

I’m always most excited to see what each of the performers bring to the evening. I love to hear the ways in which these amazing performers deal with Judy. I love that. It always makes it so thrilling and exciting to me. In addition to all that, this year we’re celebrating one of our own. It’s our first time giving the Judy Icon Award. An award to celebrate a modern icon for the LGBTQ community. I can’t think of a better “Judy” than Justin Vivian Bond. An enchantress in song, a fierce truthteller on stage, a force to be reckoned with. I adore her, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s a thrill to present someone I love so dearly with a token of community appreciation.

What else is coming up next for you, aside from this?

Oh me? I’m carrying on! I’m working on two large projects, which are too early to really talk about, but are very exciting. Doing The Meeting: The Queertily Review at Joe’s Pub in the fall. Also doing a few plays, in New York and LA! This summer, I’m taking some time for myself and writing a book. You know, easy going! And then we get started on lucky number 13 for Judys all over again!

Tickets for the 12th annual Night of a Thousand Judys are now available here.

Anyone who cannot attend the event can still donate to help The Ali Forney Center here.

Interview: Justin Elizabeth Sayre Hosts NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS at Joe's Pub


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