Performers from the worlds of Broadway, television and film are set to revive a beloved LGBTQ Pride Month tradition this weekend in New York after a two-year hiatus.
The seventh annual “Night of a Thousand Judys” hits Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater Saturday and, as in previous years, promises to be a one-night-only song-and-dance spectacle, featuring performances by Brittain Ashford, Kat Cunning, Matt Doyle and Nathan Lee Graham, among others.
Proceeds from the show, which is hosted by writer-performer Justin Sayre, will benefit the Ali Forney Center, a New York homeless LGBTQ youth advocacy group.
As its title suggests, the show is a tribute to Judy Garland, who died 50 years ago this month. Beloved by queer audiences during her lifetime, the legendary stage and screen star has enjoyed mythical, if hotly contested, ties to the community in the half-century since then. Much of that is attributed to the fact that her funeral took place June 27, 1969, less than 24 hours before the Stonewall uprising, the symbolic start to the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
Sociopolitical impact aside, “Night of a Thousand Judys” is simply intended as a celebration of Garland’s artistry and the iconic performances she left behind during her lifetime.
“We’re not doing the work as it was for Judy, but as it lives and breathes within these performers,” Sayre, who has written for “2 Broke Girls” and “The Cool Kids,” told HuffPost. “We see the torch and we hand it to each and every one of the people onstage to carry off in their own particular direction … and to do it all for such a worthy cause is honestly the best I can think of.”
As to why they believe Garland’s legend continues to resonate so profoundly, the evening’s performers each had their own interpretation.
“Judy is the epitome of honesty. You feel closer to her after watching her perform,” said Doyle, a Broadway veteran who crooned the Garland classic “You Made Me Love You” in the 2011 film, “Private Romeo,” and on his 2016 debut album. “Her humanity is so exposed when she sings, it can almost be jarring at times. I think queer people are very drawn to this because we know what it’s like to reveal ourselves to the point of discomfort. We celebrate the courage it takes to be that raw and open.”
“You can’t deny the incredible queer undertones in [‘The Wizard of Oz’], the story that brought her to fame,” added Cunning, who will appear on the third season of HBO’s “The Deuce” in a recurring role. “She leaves a world of black and white for a world of color with a new community … that embraces her and helps her to face the storm of judgment and evils.”
The Ali Forney Center’s mission, too, held deep significance.
“I think it’s so important for LGBTQ young people to have a place that they can go to feel safe,” Ashford said. “While it’s an honor to perform alongside all the talented artists of the night and pay tribute to Judy, it’s really all about the kids to me.”
Added Graham, “We will always have to fight, but during the process we cannot allow bigotry and discrimination to steal our joy.”