For the past eight years, Sayre has hosted “Night of a Thousand Judys,” a starry New York concert benefiting the Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest advocacy group for homeless LGBTQ youth. As seen in the above clip, Sayre began the 2019 edition of the show with a cheeky, slightly more-than-five-minute rundown of Garland’s entire filmography, from 1936’s “Pigskin Parade” to 1963’s “I Could Go On Singing.”
“While she’s seen as a tragic torch singer, she’s actually a singer of resilience,” Sayre, who uses the pronouns “they/them,” told HuffPost. “One day we’ll get over the rainbow, one day we’ll get over the man that got away, one day we’ll catch that frickin’ trolley.”
Like other live concerts, 2020’s “Night of a Thousand Judys” had to be postponed for a month and reimagined for the COVID-19 crisis, which has kept performance venues across the U.S. closed for months. Instead, the one-night-only event will be held virtually on July 14 and will feature performances by Broadway’s Lena Hall and Adam Pascal, along with pop singer-songwriters Bright Light Bright Light and Spencer Day, among others.
After its initial Tuesday livestream, “Night of a Thousand Judys” will be available for viewing for 30 days. Collectively, each of the show’s participating artists aim to present a “complex, contradictory, hilarious and outrageous” portrait of Garland, Sayre said, as opposed to the troubled figure at the end of her days portrayed by Renée Zellweger in last year’s acclaimed biopic, “Judy.”
“I thought Renée did a fine job within the confines of the script and the story that it wanted to tell,” Sayre said. “As someone who is a true fan, I want more than that.”
They would, of course, prefer the show to be taking place in-person, as it did last year at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York. Still, Sayre described the new format as “doable, or at least serviceable until the live thing can happen again.”
“Theater people are ingenious when it comes to adapting, [but] I think we’re all desperate for the live experience to return,” they said. “Until then, we make do, we make art, we make connection with the tools we have available.”
“Night of a Thousand Judys” was initially conceived as the Pride Month edition of Sayre’s “The Meeting,” a live variety show honoring an artist or a cultural work that is iconic to the gay community.
Looking ahead, Sayre is set to relaunch their earlier podcast, “Sparkle & Circulate with Justin Sayre,” and is also at work on both a memoir and a collection of essays, “The gAyBCs: A Brief History of Gay Culture.”
Ultimately, Sayre hopes that, like Garland, their work will “convey a message of hope” to audiences, especially those in the LGBTQ community.
“In this time of so much turmoil, strife, righteous anger, and glorious unrest at systems that have failed and continue to fail us every day, I think a message of hope is more vital than ever,” they said. “To quote Harvey Milk: ‘You gotta give ‘em hope.’ I think hope is the only thing that will get us through this.”