Cabaret Review: NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS (12th Annual Benefit at Joe’s Pub for The Ali Forney Center)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on June 8, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Theater-New York


At the start of the 12th Annual Night of a Thousand Judys benefit for The Ali Forney Center, the excited audience was addressed by the Center’s President and Executive Director Alex Roque. In his brief time at the mic, Mr. Roque thanked everyone for their support but also reminded us of why we were there. He spoke of the large number of queer youth who are kicked out by their families every day. He spoke of the 519 Anti-Gay legislative bills introduced throughout the country, so far, this year. He spoke of the over two thousand, homeless, LGBTQ+  youth the Center helps annually. So, while it was a thrilling, laugh-filled, music drenched night (more on that later), there was real tragedy and suffering just underneath the surface. Not unlike the benefit’s namesake, Miss Judy Garland, an icon of hope, determination and laughter for legions of gay men.

Alex Roque

This year’s proceedings, held at Joe’s Pub, also introduced the Judy Icon Award which “…recognizes the recipient’s contributions to the LGBTQ+ community and achievement of legendary status, following in the footsteps of the honor’s namesake, Judy Garland.” And this year’s maiden (as it were) recipient was Mx Justin Vivian Bond.

Justin Elizabeth Sayre
Mx Justin Vivian Bond

As the night’s excellent writer and host Justin Elizabeth Sayre states, “I’ve said this loud and often, but there is no other icon than Justin Vivian Bond. Chanteuse, provocateur, artist, sage, truthteller, style maven, V is the icon of downtown. I adore all that she is and all that she does. Even for me, there will only be one Justin: Justin Vivian Bond.”

Dan Fortune and Adam Rosen
The Boy Band Project

From a sobering but necessary start with Mr. Roque,  the 12th Annual Night of a Thousand Judys, produced by Dan Fortune and Adam J. Rosen, directed by Peter James Cook with music direction by Jeremy Robin Lyons, proved to be delicious musical trifle made with phenomenal talent bringing attention to painful circumstances through style, laughs and an extra scoop of show-biz sparkle. Judy would be proud!

Tammy Faye Starlight
Natalie Joy Johnson

With ten powerhouse, solo performers and one group act (The Boy Band Project. Hilarious.), the onstage roster has appeared throughout the entertainment world including Broadway, Off-Broadway, Cabaret and The Grammys. With each singer interpreting one of Judy’s songs in their own unique style, the fun was as much about hearing these tunes as it was seeing what each singer did with them. From Grammy winner Nicole Zuraitis’ full throated “Come Rain or Come Shine” to Tammy Faye Starlite’s side-splittingly funny (and X-rated) version of “Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You”,  this group of superb singers definitely put their collective foot in it.

Gabrielle Beckford
Timothy Hughes

Natalie Joy Johnson brought the house down with her spectacular The Man That Got Away” and Nathan Lee Graham brought the house down even further then put it back up with his glorious rendition of “Stormy Weather”. The gorgeous Gabrielle Beckford delivered a sensuous “Puttin’ on the Ritz” while Grey Henson offered a sweet and sincere “The Boy Next Door”. The snappy choreography by Jason Wise gave all kinds of old-school Broadway flava and was energetically performed by Kyle Kowalewski and Evan Pouch. These two excellent dancers, with their All-American good looks, seemed to embody every shiny chorus boy who ever did a time step.

Grey Henson
Edmund Bagnell

Closing out the night with a moving sing-along of “Over the Rainbow” by cast, crew and audience, what also came through from this remarkable evening was the undeniable resilience and humor-filled grit of, not only Miss Garland, but all LGBTQ+ people. Here’s hoping the Ali Forney Center made tons of money this year in order to continue their great work supporting vulnerable, LGBTQ+ youth. And here’s even bigger hoping that the 13th annual gathering of multiple, singing Judys will be cancelled because we now live in a world where organizations like The Ali Forney Center are no longer needed. It could happen. After all, if happy little bluebirds fly…

Antwayn Hopper
The Cast

photos by Conor Weiss
poster illustration and design by Daniel Nolen

Nathan Lee Graham

12th Annual Night of a Thousand Judys
benefiting The Ali Forney Center
produced by Dan Fortune and Adam J. Rosen
Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place)
reviewed on June 3, 2024

Save the Date: OASIS, the largest queer summer cocktail party in NYC outside of Pride; Wednesday, July 24, 2024 at Tribeca Rooftop, 10 Desbrosses St. For tickets and donations, visit Oasis.

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