Interview by Andrew Poretz . . .
Theater Pizzazz spoke at length with Lorna Luft, the daughter of icon Judy Garland and producer Sid Luft, in advance of her upcoming “Joy of Spring” show at Feinstein’s/54 Below opening March 31. Lorna is warm, friendly and open.
TP: What did you do with your pandemic downtime?
LL: “The only really good thing was that I got to watch a lot of great television, documentaries. I love them. Especially the documentary on the Beatles Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” — my husband and I watched it in four nights, since it was eight hours. We watched with the kids. It felt like we were flies on the wall, watching Lennon and McCartney write together. This is why the opening song for this new show is ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ George Harrison was my ‘be all and end all.’ The night the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, it was the same time as my mom’s show. That was the night she introduced ‘A Song for Lorna.’”
TP: Describe your nervous exhilaration performing your first post-pandemic show.
LL: “I felt like this was my very first time in a Broadway show [Promises, Promises]. It was the first time I ever felt I was 20 years old, doing my first show.”
TP: Why the title “The Joy of Spring”?
LL: “Spring is my favorite time of year. The colors, I love what it means. A lot of people like the fall, the holidays, even winter. You go through January, February, March. It’s cold, it’s still dark, then, all of a sudden, the clocks go into a new time zone, and then, all of a sudden, you go to your local florist or supermarket. You see daffodils and you know it’s spring, it just means things are coming back to life. I love everything about spring.”
“I do ‘Here, There and Everywhere.’ ‘Something.’ Then we do a section that is dedicated to my dear friend Ellie Greenwich, my dear friend Ronnie Spector. She was amazing, great, she was so important not just in the way that females could look. That black eye makeup. It was Ronnie Spector who — we want to look like that, we want to look like her. Those were my teenage songs. Every time you hear them, you just smile, they make you happy. It’s about finding joy and music and what’s personal to you. What songs I remember in my teenage years . . . it was all the Beatles, the Crystals and the Ronettes, it made you happy.”
TP: Are you working with your usual team for this show?
LL: “For this show, I’m not working with my husband [Colin Freeman], my usual Music Director. He’s off doing ‘Harmony.’ My musical director will be Mark Hartman, who is a friend, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. I have David Sabella, Justice! with an exclamation mark, Peter Calo, Josh, and my usual guys, six of us up there.”
TP: What influence did your mother Judy Garland have on you as a performer?
LL: “My mother taught me one thing. Her work schedule, because she grew up doing film, and her work ethic, and all of the things: you show up, you hit your mark, she did all of those movies, all of those concerts, that’s what she instilled in me. The other night, my music director, had all of his flights canceled. And somebody said you’re going to have to cancel the show. I don’t cancel shows. I’ll show up, I’ll tell stories. When they say the show must go on, yeah it does. And that’s what she instilled in me. You do everything in your human ability to stand on the stage and give the audience some kind of show, because they’ve bought the tickets, they got the babysitter, and my job is to show up. She had to do that her whole life.
“This is the roughest venue you’ll ever do. You have no place to hide, you’re not playing a character, you can’t say I didn’t write it, yeah you did.
“When I sing something, it has to ring true to me. It could be great for someone else, but if it’s not ringing honest to me, I have to find material that has a connection to me. I ask myself, ‘Why am I singing this? What am I doing? What is the reason I’m doing this?’”
TP: What did you learn from your father, Sid Luft?
LL: “It was very difficult because my father was so influential and so embedded in my mother’s career. It was very difficult for him not to say something to me like, well, your mother would have done this, that drove me insane. I told him I’m not her. It was very hard for him to let go. I told him, ‘You cannot compare me to anyone as I would never compare you to anyone.” For me that’s a cheap way out. I think that’s one of the things my father realized. ‘You’re right. Let’s find out together who I am and what I can do.’ I found out not only through my father, but working with great directors; the theater guides you. They don’t do the performance. It’s up to you to do the performance. My father guided me after I had that very long talk, of me saying I’ve gotta find my own footing, my own footprint.”
TP: Speaking of 54 Below . . .
LL: “For a long time, we didn’t have venues like this anymore like The Stork Club. There were no places to play after a while because people wanted to stay home and watch television. It was heartbreaking to all of us who grew up in that genre — but now they’re making a comeback because people do want to go out and be entertained. I think they like that because it’s really personal.”
Earlier Lorna had told me, “Cabaret — I’m not crazy about that word.” As we were finishing up, I mentioned that Marilyn Maye says in her master classes, “I’m not a cabaret singer. I’m a nightclub singer.” I felt Lorna brighten up on the other end. “I’ve played every venue you could imagine. There’s something really special about the small club situation, because it’s the most honest you have to be. I agree with Marilyn. I’m a nightclub singer and I’m proud of that. For a long time, it was a dying art. When you see her, you’re watching history. She is remarkable. Her voice is pristine, she takes care of herself. We all grew up in these places. It’s history.”
“Again, just take a lesson from the history. It’s the interpretation, the honesty. You don’t have anything to hide behind. It’s only a piano and a couple of musicians and guess what, tag, you’re it. Being able to not have to really “scrape the paint off the wall” because you’re not playing in a huge arena, and I’m really, literally sitting with these people, telling the story in the song. These young people come out today and they’re all trying to peel the paint… just tell me the story, that’s all. And they don’t know how to do that, because they have been ingrained in this sound, because if they don’t make that sound, they’re not going to make it today. If I could take you back to Mabel Mercer… Just look at Peggy Lee! Just go back and do some homework of people from that genre who were extraordinary with their honesty. It’s very difficult for a lot of people to do what we do in smaller spaces.”
Lorna Luft is appearing at Feinstein’s/54 Below from March 31 to April 2, 2022. For tickets, visit https://54below.com/events/lorna-luft-the-joy-of-spring.