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by Michael Portantiere

Judys, Judys Everywhere!

  • NIGHT-OF-A-THOUSAND-JUDYS-edit.jpgOver the decades, Judy Garland has been channelled by any number of performers and impersonators, including some biological females. Several of these people have offered skillful and respectful portraits, such as Jim Bailey, Mary Birdsong, Isabel Keating in The Boy From Oz, and Judy Davis in Me and My Shadows, an excellent TV movie based on the book by Lorna Luft. Others, who shall remain nameless, have failed to capture the Garland magic and have instead presented gross caricatures of one of the most talented and beloved entertainers in history.

    So, when one wants to honor Judy, it's usually a better (and safer!) idea to celebrate her legacy in song without trying to imitate her voice and mannerisms. This wiser path is the one that will be taken by the performers in Night of a Thousand Judys, the second annual edition of an event dreamed up and hosted by Justin Sayre as a special presentation of his acclaimed monthly variety show, The Meeting. Scheduled for Monday evening, June 18 at Playwrights Horizons, the show will star Andrea McArdle (who played the young Garland in the 1978 TV-movie Rainbow) and such other fabulous Broadway folks as Tonya Pinkins, Daniel Reichard, Nellie McKay, and Ashley Brown, plus media mavens Michael Musto (The Village Voice) and Frank DeCaro (Sirius XM Satellite Radio).

    This prize package is a benefit for The Ali Forney Center, which provides housing and other services for homeless LGBT youth. (For more information and/or to purchase tickets, visit www.aliforneycenter.org. Here's what Justin Sayre had to tell me about last year's event and what to expect this year.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Night of a Thousand Judys. What a wonderful idea. Was it yours, Justin?

    JUSTIN: Yes. At The Meeting, we celebrate a gay icon each month, and Judy Garland is a personal icon for me. So I thought it would be great to put together an evening around her, to get performers of all different styles to pay tribute to her as a benefit for The Ali Forney Center. They agreed that it was a great idea, so we did it last year, and it went very well. The show is going to be even bigger this year. This is our second Night of a Thousand Judys but our third benefit for the center, which is a great organization.

    STARS: Tell me about last year's event.

    JUSTIN: It was at Joe's Pub, and tickets sold so well that we decided to move to a bigger space this year. It was so much fun; we had Jackie Hoffman, Daisy Eagan, Lady Rizo, and Gay Marshall from the revival of Jacques Brel. And we had Summer and Eve, a great comedy band that's coming back this year.

    STARS: As I understand it, none of the artists in Night of a Thousand Judys attempt to impersonate the lady.

    JUSTIN: No, certainly not. We really encourage everyone to sing the songs in their own way. It's a celebration of Judy as a performer and an icon, so we like it when people bring new things to the table and put their own twists on songs from the Judy catalog. Last year, Lady Rizo did something really interesting with "Smile," and Summer and Eve did a fun arrangement of "Purple People Eater."

    STARS: You have Michael Musto and Frank DeCaro on the roster this year. Will they be singing?

    JUSTIN: No. The Meeting is a comedy/variety show; we always do skits and joke routines as well as songs. This year, we'll be doing a parody of the The Wizard of Oz with some really great people, including Michael and Frank and Jenn Harris.

    STARS: I don't want to put you on the spot, but have you seen End of the Rainbow?

    JUSTIN: Not yet.

    STARS: As you may have heard, the show and the performance are very controversial. It seems that people either love it or hate it.

    JUSTIN: You know, I have such respect and awe for Judy Garland that I always want to see her rather than someone playing her. But from everything I've heard, Tracie Bennett is putting forth a bravura performance, so I hope to get to the show soon.

    STARS: Ben Rimalower is directing Night of a Thousand Judys again, and you have the terrific Lance Horne as your music director. Who else is involved?

    JUSTIN: Our choreographer is Jason Wise. There won't be a lot of choreography, but we definitely wanted to have one or two show-biz "moments." Jason is a dear friend of mine who actually wrote a letter to The New York Times in response to their recent article about whether or not Judy is still relevant.

    STARS: And what's your response to that question, Justin? I mean, I'm sure it's "Yes!", but maybe you can expand on that.

    JUSTIN: I was asked about this when the Times article came out. I don't think it's about the songs so much, it's more about the kind of people we want to be. Judy Garland's performances were all about what she gave to the audience, the experience they shared together. The way the world is now, I think we're all a little bit disconnected, so it's important to remember the kind of performer Judy was and celebrate that level of connection with other people. If we can celebrate that and also raise some money for a beautiful charity like The Ali Forney Center, that's something I'm very proud to have my name connected with.

    Published on Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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