Club Review: Gilbert D. Sanchez’s “Me and My Good Judys at Good Judy”
I recently visited The Blue Room, a new (or at least new to me) cabaret upstairs from Good Judy, a friendly and comfortable gay bar on Fifth Ave in Brooklyn. The show room is a tiny, bare bones space with an upright piano on the stage, decent lights, and excellent sound. It’s a throwback in the best sense. I immediately felt at home as I sat down to see Me and My Good Judys at Good Judy, the remarkably assured and inventive debut of Gilbert D. Sanchez. I was not familiar with the phrase “Good Judy.” Of course I know “friend of Dorothy,” but this is the other side of that concept. A Good Judy is someone who supports a gay person in coming out and becoming at ease with it; it also refers to someone who helps someone realize their dreams. Sanchez not only paid tribute to his Good Judys, but featured a few of them in his show to great effect.
The singer has fashioned an autobiographical journey from childhood to the Blue Room stage. Using that concept is very often a risky position—I usually end up wanting more music and fewer facts (or, at the very least, fewer clichés), but here the singer struck just the right balance. In fact, Sanchez made me reconsider several of my usual objections and reservations about debut cabaret shows. His show is riddled with medleys, but he managed to make each one work. He displayed such obvious joy and emotion in performing them that he completely won me over as he conjured each specific time and place. They became a vital element of the fabric of his story. He had family and loved ones participate in the show and somehow avoided the cloying and embarrassing time wasters that most other shows suffer from. They, too, seemed indispensable to the tale he was weaving.
He has an unassuming, winning personality that is immediately ingratiating and belies the strength and electricity of his vocals. He invested each lyric with a real sense of conversation and transformed even the material that might be weak in another singer’s hands into at times funny, at times moving, at times thrilling moments.
The singer and the songs are well-served by music director Thomas Hodges for whom I have both admiration and a sartorial suggestion. He should dress for the occasion; even just a black shirt would have been an improvement over the flannel shirt he wore. It looked like he had been having a drink at the bar and was called up unexpectedly to play.
This was particularly odd because costuming was such a big part of the show. Sanchez opened with a black dinner jacket over dark nylons; it was very Judy in A Star is Born and looked terrific. Very soon layers began to disappear, most wildly and hilariously when he revealed Barney the Dinosaur underoos to underscore the point that Barney was one of his first good Judys. He did not cover them back up for quite a while and it subtly allowed the boy he had revealed to us to remain present on stage as we watched and listened to him journey through the years. It was a masterstroke, actually. When he did change costumes it became a cornucopia of gender-bending fabulousness on a budget. The only costume in need of work, a circumstance that it shared with the character itself, was when he appeared as a tart-tongued, worn-out drag queen seated at the piano. It seemed an unnecessary detour from his own mesmerizing persona on stage.
So far, I have purposely avoided mention of the songs included in the show. It is such a perfectly chosen surprising and delightful repertoire that audiences deserve to discover them in the moment. I will give just a taste of the program because…. well …. I’m me! The opening pairing of Judy Garland’s “Beautiful Trouble” (Jeff Cardoni, Kevin Kiner) with Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again” (Max Martin, Rami Yacoub) gives a good indication of the breadth and depth of the singer’s choices. A subsequent coupling of the inevitable “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg) and Randy Crawford’s “One Day I’ll Fly Away” (Joe Sample, Will Jennings) managed to whisk away any trace of saccharine or schmaltz from “Rainbow.” I loved it.
Sanchez included moments of Tina Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Selena, Rocky Horror, Oklahoma, Evita, Lil Nas X, Jessica Simpson, and the ever-underrated Jay Brannan.
His vocal guests, Ryan Mulgrew (his fiancé), Katy Richter, and Jennifer Walkowiak, dazzled and proved worthy of shows of their own. His dancers, Marilyn Valencia and Morayma Sanchez (his mom), put the “special” in special guests. But with all the guest turns, it remains firmly Gilbert D. Sanchez’s baby and he flies with it. I can’t wait to see what he does next, and to see Me and My Good Judys at Good Judy again.
Presented Oct. 24 & 26 at The Blue Room at Good Judy, 563 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY.
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”