REVIEW: Justin Sayre (thankfully) back at Joe’s Pub
Like Dolly Levi returning to the Harmonia Gardens, Justin Elizabeth Sayre is back where he belongs. And he’s got “female trouble.” For three nights only, this inimitable gay cabaret sensation graces Joe’s Pub with his new show “Justin Sayre: I’m Gorgeous Inside.” A staple on the New York scene as founder and host of “The Meeting”, which ended its eight-year residency at the Public Theater last May—and self-titled Chairman of the Board of the International Order of Sodomites—Sayre’s been hanging his wig, so to speak, in Los Angeles of late. And so this new evening, an ode to “bad girls” who become “nasty women”, marks a joyful return to the Big Apple for a celebrated solo performer.
To the unforgettable vamp of Sondheim’s “Beautiful Girls”, Sayre—who is a dead ringer for a young Orson Welles—flounces upon the impossibly small stage of Joe’s Pub donning a silver jumpsuit, pink sheer floor-length cardigan, and a voluptuously teased blonde wig whose height defies physics, and, at the performance I attended, was briskly replaced by a silver turban. An hysterical program of song, story, limerick, improv, drag, wigs, bubbles, watermelon jolly ranchers, and wet crotches follows, essentially, everything New York is—or is supposed to be or was promised to be—about. A mid-show interlude featuring Brooklyn drag queen Merrie Cherry blindfolded, lip-syncing to Nina Simone’s “Four Women” rests my case.
Sayre’s act is a tribute to sex workers and a secret love letter to the City of New York, showcasing his remarkable talent for extracting poignancy and humanity amid laughter. Slyly touching and bitterly funny stories about characters he’s encountered include tales of Roberta Root, a tough fellow third grade classmate with a “smoker’s mouth”; Chlamydia, as he named her, a “bad girl” in her 60s whom he profiled from chance encounters at Walgreens in the Village; Joslyn, a prostitute who worked his corner off the Gowanus Canal in her maroon Member’s Only jacket and loose ponytail; and a weekend-long affair with a short and angry twink, his self-proclaimed “type.”
Sayre is a master storyteller, quick, self-effacing, and smart. He commands the stage without effort, makes us laugh, and wins our hearts. He’s a bridge to an old, gay New York, a time and place that is disappearing, and so his performance is important as both a means of cultural retention (references to Pearl Bailey, zagnut, and Nescafé), and a form of cultural creation. He invites the audience to take a journey with him through winding story and torch song, and to see the world through his witty and wicked view—one which is hilarious, sad, and fabulous.
Sayre entreated any critics in the audience to include this pull-quote, and so, in summary, his cabaret act is “great but misguided.” I had to. But as far as “great but misguided” shows go, this one is not to be missed.
“Justin Sayre: I’m Gorgeous Inside”
Joe’s Pub/The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10003
Running Time: 2 hours (no intermission)
Remaining Performances: September 23rd and 24th at 9:30 pm
Tickets: $25 (+a two drink or $12 food minimum)