Friday, September 3, 2010
LORNA ~ Her mother taught her well...
By Carl Kozlowski 09/02/2010
Having a well-known parent has to be one of the most difficult things a person can live up to. It’s bad enough if your mom or dad is the most famous doctor or lawyer in town, but Lorna Luft grew up under the massive shadow of one of the most famous performers in American history.
As the daughter of screen icon Judy Garland and the half-sister of Liza Minnelli — an Oscar and Emmy-winning performer in her own right — Luft had big footsteps to follow when she started singing publicly at age 11 in a TV special with her mother and sister. Yet she has done quite well herself, with a lengthy career that has included TV and film but is most firmly rooted in concert stages worldwide — where she performs a repertoire of pop standards, many of which were once sung by Garland herself.
Luft will be working her magic on the stage of Glendale’s Alex Theatre on Sept. 16, when she performs with the Glendale Renaissance Orchestra and fellow guest stars Tobi Foster and Blake Ginther in the special show “Broadway Meets Hollywood.” Featuring songs from “West Side Story,” classic composer Henry Mancini (“Pink Panther,” “Moon River”) in addition to the most popular selections from Luft’s Garland tribute CD “Songs That My Mother Taught Me,” it should be an evening of sonic splendor for fans of timeless tunes.
“It wasn’t expected that I sing, but it was the family business like some families are doctors or lawyers, so it wasn’t unusual to go into singing,” explains Luft. “My children are 26 and 19, and they don’t want to do this and that’s OK. This is where the legacy ends. If they wanted to go into show business I wouldn’t have stopped them, but I never would have put my kids in showbiz as children, ever.”
In fact, the subject of child actors is just one of many topics that Luft directed her refreshingly no-nonsense attitude at during a recent half-hour interview at the Alex. She noted that while there may be more protective laws for child actors than when Garland arrived in Hollywood fresh out of Grand Rapids, Mich., the responsibility for the pressures child actors face rests squarely on their parents’ shoulders.
“Where’s their contract, and where did they choose to do this?” she asks. “When you have someone like Kate Gosselin putting her eight kids on TV, how do we know that her kids wanted that? I can’t bear thinking how they’ll feel when they reach their 20s.”
Luft, 57, was in her 40s when she publicly came to terms with her upbringing via the smash hit memoir “Me and My Shadows” in 1998 and the 2001 TV miniseries based upon it that won huge ratings and an impressive five Emmy Awards. While she says she didn’t learn anything surprising from the experience, it did help her place her life in a bigger context.
“A friend said that you don’t get to know your parents until your early 40s,” says Luft. “When you’re in your 20s, you’re figuring yourself out, and in your 30s you want to find the answers to the questions, both big and personal. There’s been over 50 books out on my mom, so I had to tell the truth about what it was like for me being her child. The public will know if it’s your voice or not, and if you see the word ‘unauthorized,’ you know someone who was fired or wasn’t even there wrote the book. Pick it up in a bookstore, but don’t buy it.”
Luft also took on her mother’s impressive legacy in 2007 with “Songs That My Mother Taught Me.” In addition to selling impressively and earning her great reviews, it gave her new legs for her career.
That pride in her mother means that Luft is outspoken about others’ attempts to alter Garland’s legacy. She’s particularly rankled by the fact that British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is planning to create a new stage version of “The Wizard of Oz” and had the audacity to say he hopes “to eradicate the memory of Judy Garland.”
“It’s such a perfect film with perfect characters, so leave it alone,” says Luft. “I guess the original songs by Harold Arlen just aren’t good enough. It’s just sacrilege to me in a way. Are you kidding? They have a reality show for finding the new Dorothy and it was just so offensive to hear Webber say that. I just want to say, ‘I really don’t think you’ll make people forget my mother.’”
Luft also has maintained a strong, positive rapport with Minnelli, saying they never felt competitive because their seven-year age difference seemed like a huge gap when they were young. These days, they communicate often by email, since Liza lives in New York City and Luft is based in Palm Springs.
In addition to special events like the Alex show (which will be replicated with the New West Symphony on Sept. 19 in Thousand Oaks), Luft is a devoted volunteer for gay-rights causes, including the crusade for gay marriage, and performs regularly on cruise ships worldwide with her husband Colin Freeman teaming up as her conductor and musical director.
“I had some fantastic singing coaches who taught me to take care of my voice and not over-sing, but who also taught me that being a singer is like being an athlete,” Luft explains. “You have to take care of your voice the way they take care of their bodies, and in return your voice will take care of you.
“Working with my husband is a fantastic process as well. When two actors get married, they’ll be competing. When an actor and director get married, that’s a long-lasting marriage because there’s no competition. He’s my safety net, knows exactly what I’m going to do before I do it, and he makes me feel safe.”
Lorna Luft will perform in “Broadway Meets Hollywood” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $25 to $69.50. Call (818) 243-2539 (ALEX), or visit alextheatre.org.