Performers Reflect On How Judy Garland Set the Bar for Musical Theatre

Special Features   Performers Reflect On How Judy Garland Set the Bar for Musical Theatre
As the sixth annual Night Of A Thousand Judys prepares to take the stage this Pride month, its performers reflect on how the legendary Judy Garland set the bar and influenced them.
Judy Garland
Judy Garland NY Public Library, Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Lillias White, Alice Ripley, Barrett Foa, Annie Golden, Nathan Lee Graham, Vivian Reed, Lady Rizo, Gay Marshall, Carol Lipnik, Rob Maitner, Gabrielle Stravelli, T. Oliver Reid and Nadia Quinn and Ahna O’Reilly with the Playbillies will headline the sixth annual Night Of A Thousand Judys, the Pride concert to benefit The Ali Forney Center presented by The Meeting* hosted by Justin Sayre.

In anticipation of the show, its cast reflected on why Garland was so iconic, what set her apart from others and how she has shaped the state of musical theatre.

Annie Golden
Annie Golden

Annie Golden
As I came up out of skid row from rock and roll, when music reporters would ask me my influences I would always say: Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and David Bowie! Those pop stars who did concerts, clubs, albums and films! That was then, and this is now: being blessed with opportunities and an ongoing career for more than 35 years, I understand why the great Garland girl stays with me as an unwavering example of authenticity! Her honesty as a singer and storytelling actress with lyrics or dialogue was gut wrenching! My Norma Romano [in Orange is the New Black] would not be nearly as effective if I had not been a John Cassavetes fan and seen my idol, Judy Garland, in his A Child is Waiting. Watch her brilliant stillness and sorrow. Her depth of compassion translates and grips you to your soul! She don't need no song to move you. But just let her sing a note, and that's it! Every edge is excellent, exhilarating and exciting! A one-of-a-kind natural talent!

Vivian Reed
Judy Garland, for me, was one of the more dynamic performers when it came to delivering the lyrics of a song and totally embodying the character. It is paramount for any performer in a musical or even in a concert to do so. They must deliver the message of the song and, at the same time, delve deeply into the character and all of its nuances and this is what Judy Garland was all about…thus raising the bar for all who followed.

Nathan Lee Graham
Judy Garland remains a constant source of inspiration for me as a performer. She could do everything! She was—and is—entertainment! From subtle sighs to ferocious forte! Whatever she had to give as a performer, you got it every time. No one acted and sang a song with seamless spontaneity like Judy. Her interpretations of a song are the standard. Her voice is a voice I always hear in my head when I perform. She is truly a gift that keeps on giving. And will never be forgotten. Her legacy is authentic. She literally makes me happy.

Nadia Quinn
Judy Garland was one of those magical humans who could act, sing and dance in a way that was so far beyond what others were capable of, yet everything she did always seemed truly effortless. I think so many of us grew up watching her and imitating her—wanting to be her. I watched The Wizard of Oz hundreds of times growing up and would act out the scenes with neighbors that I’d cast as munchkins and monkeys and scarecrows and good witches. Judy was magic. We love her and remember her because she was a truly wondrous person…and I think we all strive to have a little bit of that Judy glitter inside us every time we step on stage.

Barret Foa
Barret Foa Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

Barrett Foa
What I've always admired about Judy Garland was how she could connect with a song on such a personal, intimate level and build it to a sort of frenetic frenzy, as if she couldn't keep her emotions inside for one more second. Sure, she has the vocal chops to back it up, but that uninhibited spontaneity was what made her so magnetic.

Justin Sayre
She remains the gold standard. She’s what you dream of being. To have that kind of connection with an audience, to move total strangers in the ways she was able to, from elation to despair, it’s a gift that is both powerful and rare. To me, Judy is a constant reminder of giving. Giving it all you have and more. Leaving your talent and your heart on the floor and walking out to fight another fight. She reminds me of why live performance is—so vital and important. When we, across the footlights and the space, can touch each other, those are the most amazing experiences.

T. Oliver Reid
It’s almost impossible to picture a time when Judy Garland wasn’t somehow attached to my life. Whether it was the backyard production of The Wizard of Oz that I made my neighborhood friends participate in (when I destroyed one of my mother’s yellow blankets making a brick road) or the yearly—yes, yearly—dream I had when I’d awaken in an alternate universe version of my neighborhood and the witch lived at the end of the block. Or, it could be the afternoons spent watching TNT and every MGM musical she ever starred in. If she was in it, I was watching it and listening to her and waiting for her sometimes overly expressive eyes to tell me a secret. Her ballads offer endless journeys. Her up-tempo numbers are still storytelling genius. I wanted to be on that damned trolley, clanging like the kids in early 20th-century St. Louis. I wanted to be on the other side of that rainbow with the blue birds. I forgot my troubles and got happy.

The event will take place at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center (129 West 67th Street in Manhattan) June 6 and honor Garland with special skits, tributes and songs from her legendary career. There will be a pre-show VIP reception at 6:30 PM with the performance at 8 PM. For more information, visit

Click Here to Shop for Theatre
Merchandise in the Playbill Store
Today’s Most Popular News: