It is definitely alive and fully throbbing in the voice of her middle child, Lorna Luft, who wraps up her engagement, SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME, at Feinstein’s at the Regency this Sunday, January 9.
For all true Garland devotees, this one hour show, compressed from a two-hour Judy orgy created by Luft with her husband/music director, Colin Freeman, which she has seemingly been performing everywhere BUT NYC, is simply a must. One, of course, had trepidations about the whole thing – mainly, could she carry it off? – and Goddamn if she doesn’t!
From the opening moments featuring film footage of Garland’s TV show episode wherein, singing directly to her then little girl, she introduces the song, “Lorna,” especially written for her by legendary music director Mort Lindsey and no less than lyricist Johnny Mercer, you are primed for an absolute, delicious Judy wallow. I, personally, never thought big sister Liza Minnelli ever sounded like “Mama,” but there is utterly no denying that Lorna surely does, especially in the middle voice range and belted high notes, with those same dark, pulsating colors which simultaneously bring chills down your spine and tears to your eyes. It’s every old cliche come to life, once and for all, as you think, “When I close my eyes, I could swear …”
In the show, Luft quotes Garland as always saying “Lorna likes the loud ones,” and she certainly proved this, by doing full, open-throated justice to show-stoppers like “Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” and “The Joint is Really Jumping Down at Carnegie Hall.” Even without the uncanny vocalism, you get an awesome charge just by hearing Luft’s 11-piece band playing those classic Garland arrangements at full throttle, never more so than when she attempts and triumphs in that most Holy Grail of a song, “The Man That Got Away,” which alone is worth the steep Feinstein’s admission price. It’s like hearing this greatest of torch songs for the first time, simply because you are hearing it AGAIN for the first time, performed with a whole lotta matchless DNA.
There’s no way to top this, but Luft barrels onward after this, with another STAR IS BORN tour-de-force: a recreation of Garland’s “Born in a Trunk” medley, which tells the real story of Judy Garland, not Esther Blodgett. Luft’s jaw-dropping energy, volleying belted thrills galore hit you right in the gut, suddenly inspiring a near identical kind of screaming, frenzied fever of which her mother was mistress. (Listen to that audience on her Carnegie hall album to hear what I mean.) And, for those who NEED to know, this segment was the only time she referred to Liza, mentioning her birth in the chronology of her “Mom” (for Luft, it’s never “Mama”). It’s a thrillingly comprehensive, exhausting work-out, so complete that you hardly need Luft’s wrap-up of her singing the ballad, “Shining Star,” in tandem with Garland’s recording of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
At the celebratory champagne toast afterwards – at which Liza, it must be reported, was not present, although she showed up the following night – I enthused to Luft about her miraculous energy, saying, “I bet you could do it all over again.”
“No way!” she cried, visibly moved, shaken and proud.
But I would bet anything that she could.
For my interview with her in GAY CITY NEWS, click here