The Meeting*

December 29, 2016

Justin Sayre (by Michael Sirey)Justin Sayre has one of the most distinctive voices in New York clubs and cabarets. I mean that in both senses of the word “voice.” He sounds like no one else—his voice is arch, camp, musical, barbed, questioning and hilarious. It is just the sort of voice and sound one would expect from the creator and host of a comedy/variety series called The Meeting (of the International Order of Sodomites). The latest “meeting,” at Joe’s Pub, was seasonally themed and was, in fact, subtitled The Eighth and Final Holiday Spectacular!

It is the other meaning of “voice” that really sets this show apart from so many other guest-star-filled revues that pop up everywhere these days. Under the guise of a centuries-old homosexual organization, of which the audience is the current membership, the Order allows Sayre to range far and wide on the current social, political, sexual and cultural scenes, and subversively combine all of them into a world view that is quite bracing—if one had the chance to pause and think about it, but the show was so fast and funny that such reflection was reserved for the trip home afterward. As we are still struggling to figure out and anticipate “Trump world” and our place in it, Sayre wisely chose to underplay the political a bit in this installment and give us a welcome holiday breather from the concerns and fears that abound elsewhere. That the real world, even at the wildest of moments in the show, was never all that far beneath the surface is a testament to his magical talents as host and performer to be all-embracing while being the most specific.

He entered clad in a black glitter top, skin-tight black leather pants and red heels, with a shiny-star-laden beret atop his head and a wonderfully mischievous, evil little gleam in his eyes; here was a Santa to slide down the chimney of a gay boy’s dreams. His opening greeting of “Ladies and gentlemen…and everything else” set the tone for the festivities ahead. Throughout the evening his comedic timing and content were first rate as he took back the spotlight before passing it on to the next guest. His idea of creating Fantasy Gay Porn Leagues, instead of baseball and football, complete with gay porn trading cards had the audience roaring.

The first guest was Angela Di Carlo, who presented us with hilarious musical excerpts from her “downtown” show A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) Cabaret. Taken together, these mini-tunes provided a year-in-review wrap-up that hit on, among other topics, explosions in Chelsea, Prince’s passing, Pokémon’s resurgence, Nancy Reagan, Hillary, and a spoiled brat rant by Tiffany Trump. I am curious to see how these delightful tidbits sustain an hour-long show, but in her turn at Joe’s Pub, Di Carlo killed, assisted mightily by pianist Kyle Forester.

The next guest, Ari Gold, made a big point of streaming his appearance on Facebook Live so that countless viewers beyond the Joe’s Pub audience could witness a shirtless man with a good voice (showing off admittedly impressive pecs under his jacket) fill his vocals with so many swoops, riffs, and unnecessary notes that it became downright silly—an unintentional parody of what passes these days as R&B and soul vocals. Natalie Joy Johnson and Kevin Smith Kirkwood, fine singers both, chose to do “Mary Did You Know?” (Buddy Greene, Mark Lowry) to a track, which limited vocals in disappointing ways. It was an odd choice since the music director for the evening was the talented Tracy Stark, who could easily have provided live accompaniment. Johnson returned later to better effect, with Stark, to do “Merry Christmas, Darling” (Richard Carpenter, Frank Pooler) in tribute to the Carpenters’ Christmas album.

As a special treat, Sayre decided to share a bit of Mitzi Gaynor courtesy of an overhead screen. He chose a 1972 TV special medley of “religious” songs that was surreal all on its own—gyrating chorus boys forming crucifixes behind Gaynor breathily crooning about the savior was only the tip of the camp iceberg. His commentary track and pauses were sidesplitting, and his honestly enthusiastic enjoyment of the performance made me wish he would start an online series of wild and strange TV clips that he would curate and dissect.

Each edition of The Meeting* ends with Sayre presenting the audience with the Order’s latest announcements and rules. December’s list touched on the film Moonlight, Madonna, Tom Ford, Louisiana’s repeal of equality protections, and a study from the Spiritual Science Research Center claiming that 85% of gay men are possessed by ghosts—LADY ghosts, the host was quick (and delighted) to add.

Like all great clowns, Justin Sayre’s heart is as big as his talent and he allowed it to show through in the last minutes as he reminded us of the loneliness surrounding the holidays and talked about chosen families versus biological families. This served as a perfect intro to a heartfelt rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane). He was tenderly halting at the beginning, but let it build into a big emotional and musical finish. I look forward to hearing him sing more at future meetings. Happily, the “final” in the subtitle referred to holiday editions and not The Meeting* itself.  There are monthly editions booked at the club through May. With one visit, I have become a devoted member.

Joe’s Pub  –  Monthly


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?”