by Marilyn Lester
Pride, hope, optimism, faith in the future – these were the themes of Lorna Luft’s celebratory show at Feinstein’s/54 Below, dedicated to the LGBT community and all individuals who take pride in themselves. It was only natural for Judy Garland’s daughter to open with a hopeful tune her mother had recorded, “Comes Once In a Lifetime,” with its message of “live for today.” Yet, it was inevitable that at a certain point the gorilla in the room be addressed: the recent mass shooting tragedy in a Florida LGBT night club. “Our hearts hurt and we ask why,” said Luft with great compassion. But having acknowledged that, she declared it was time to “”Accentuate the Positive” and celebrate “who we are.” Therein followed an upbeat Johnny Mercer tribute. Mercer was not only Garland’s lover, but a strong influence on Luft and a man whom she acknowledged as the most positive lyricist she could think of. Her Mercer medley of many marvelous songs included “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” “Moon River,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” and a fun interpretation of “Goody Goody.”
In the past several years, Luft has had serious medical problems over which she has prevailed. Yet, the consequences of that physical struggle are evident in her singing. There’s a breathlessness to her speech, and that, coupled with the genetic vibrato so famously evident in her mother and half-sister Liza Minnelli, has diminished Luft’s vocal prowess. Yet, like her “Cockeyed Optimist,” Luft does not lack in enthusiasm, likeability or genuineness. She also has the wherewithal to counter any deficits with excellent phrasing and deliberate vocal modulation and control. Paying homage to another man who was influential in her life, Peter Allen, Luft sang “Everything Old Is New Again/When I Get My Name in Lights,” “Marry The Rain,” and “Honestly Love You/Don’t Cry Out Loud.”
Saluting her recent participation in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas tour she sang “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” and a jazzy, up tempo version of “Blue Skies,” which transmuted the traditional counterpoint of Berlin’s happy lyric with a steadily dropping bass line in a minor key.
Luft is an accomplished entertainer. Her celebration of pride week show is smartly constructed and delivered. Thus the finale was exquisitely grand. Addressing the Stonewall riots of June 1969 she admitted the event wasn’t on her radar till recently; after all, her mother had just died (way before her time) just a few days before. Now, she declared, “I stand with you.” To prove it Luft sang a song she has assiduously avoided through the years: “Over the Rainbow.” Her low-key, sincere and well-modulated rendition brought the audience to its feet, where it largely remained for the positive, cheerful close-out of the evening – a shout-out to Paul Jabara and a previous occupant of the venue’s space, Studio 54. Joined on stage by four drag artists, Luft swung to the jumping disco tune, “Last Dance” with audience members dancing along. Ably and sensitively backing Luft were musical director and pianist Colin Freeman, Jim Donica on upright bass and bass guitar, and Josh Priest on drums.
Lorna Luft Celebrates Pride Week, June 22 – 25 at 7 PM
Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.Feinstein’s/54below.com