Lorna Luft — daughter of the late, legendary entertainer Judy Garland — is currently starring in a new one-woman show written by Mitzie and Ken Welch and featuring the songs that the late Garland made famous. Appropriately titled Songs My Mother Taught Me, the musical evening was recently extended a second time at Los Angeles' Canon Theatre, where it will run through Sept. 21. Luft will then take the acclaimed show to Florida's Parker Playhouse, Nov. 19-Dec. 14, with runs in other cities expected.
In addition to her work on concert stages throughout the world, Luft has also appeared in several stage musicals, including the Broadway production of Promises, Promises and the Off-Broadway mountings of Snoopy and Extremities. She starred as Rose in a regional production of Gypsy, and her national tour credits include They're Playing Our Song, Jerry Herman's Broadway Years and the aforementioned Songs My Mother Taught Me.. Last week I had the chance to speak with the no-nonsense gal, a mother of two who seemed both excited and exhausted by her current success. The complete interview follows.
Question: Tell me a little a bit about the genesis of the show. How did it come about?
Lorna Luft: The whole show came about four years ago when I really wanted to pay tribute to my mother's music and all of that. I had written my book ["Me and My Shadows"], I hadn't done the movie, but I had come to peace with all of this — my legacy and all of that — and I just wanted to pay tribute to all of her music. I called my friend Barry Manilow, and Barry Manilow said there are only two people to do that, which are Ken and Mitzie Welch. And the Welches are just amazing, and they've written all the Carol Burnett shows, so we called them, and six months later we opened the show.
Q: I haven't seen the show since I'm in New York. Tell me a little about the structure of the show.
LL: It's stories about my life growing up. It's sort of like you're coming into my living room, and I'm telling you these stories, and then you are able to walk away and feel what you want to feel. It's multimedia, and [my mother and I] sing duets. It's really personal, yet it's non-exploitative. It's something that everybody who has come and seen it, just really loves it. I feel really, really odd talking about how good it is. I just feel somebody else should be talking about it. Q: You sing with recordings and footage of your mother? What's that like for you?
LL: Peaceful. Easy. Really at home feeling now. It's not painful anymore.
Q: Did she want you to be in show business originally?
LL: No, I don't think so, well, no not really. You don't want your kid to go through rough stuff that you've gone through, so she didn't really. But then when I decided to do it, she had no choice, and she was really supportive.
Q: When did you realize that you could sing?
LL: [Laughs.] I don't know, I guess I must have been about 12, 13.
Q: Do you still study voice?
LL: I do. I still go to someone, and I still try to be really quiet on my days off. I do have one non-speaking day, the day off after I do these back to-back shows in Los Angeles. I have a whole non-speaking day where I don't talk.
Q: How do you get your messages across?
LL: I have a little chalkboard and whatever. My kids know about it. My husband answers the phone, and I just really try to shut up!
Q: He's involved in the show, too?
LL: Yeah, he's my musical director.
Q: Do you enjoy working together?
LL: No, we hate each other. Yeah, of course we do.
Q: Was the show frozen once you opened? Or have you been working on it?
LL: Oh, no, no, no. It's still . . . Ken and Mitzi still come in and we try different things. We still do things. We try all these new things, and see if they work, and if they don't, whatever. It's still a work in progress, which is what makes it fun.
Q: Is there a chance of a recording?
LL: Oh, yeah, once we get into a really great venue. Not that the Canon isn't a great venue, but it's not recording-wise.
Q: Do you think you would record it live?
LL: That's up to the producer. That's being all talked about right now.
Q: I know the producer hopes to move it to San Francisco. Any chance about maybe bringing it to New York?
LL: Yeah, but you know, New York scares all of us right now. Do you know what I mean? We want to go to San Francisco. We want to go to London. We are going to Florida. We're going to the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale from Nov. 19 through [Dec. 14]. That's a nice place for the winter, so that's cool. So, we're in Florida, then there's San Francisco, and then there's talk of London. You know, I adore New York City, okay, but I want to bring it to other places, and then when we go into New York it'll sort of be like we're pulling into the station in a way. We're still on the journey.
Q: You want to make sure you have it where you want it before you come here?
LL: You're never going to have it the way you want it, but at least you'll know that, like, if some pissed off critic decides that he's had a bad day, you know what I mean, at least we have money in the bank. Do you know what I mean?
Q: A colleague here said he loved you as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.
LL: I had a great time.
Q: Does eight shows a week in a musical interest you at this time?
LL: No, six shows a week is enough. I'm looking for an understudy right now, so I'm prepping my daughter. Please, Songs My Grandmother Taught My Mother Taught... No, doing eight shows a week does not interest me right now.
Q: Too much?
LL: It is. I'm doing six a week, and it's killing me, but I'm doing two hours on a stage of solid singing by myself. No back-up singers, no nothing.
Q: What are some of the songs that are in the show?
LL: Name them! You start naming 'em, and I'll tell 'ya.
Q: "The Trolley Song"
Q: "Come Rain or Come Shine"
Q: "You Made Me Love You"
Q: "For Me and My Gal"
LL: Yup. Every single song that my mother was really known for is in this show in either whole or part.
Q: What do you think she would think of this show?
LL: She would love this show. Hello? Duh! But it's a real mother daughter show. I mean, everybody who has been in to see it . . . Last night, Jennifer Love Hewitt was in, and all the young people who have been in to see it, to Sidney Poitier. Mrs. Reagan, they've all come in with tears, saying it's the best thing. You just take us on this journey, and we start thinking about. We forget that it's your mother, you. We all of a sudden start remembering my mother and my family. And I said, "Well that's what we want you to do." Jennifer Love Hewitt came in with her mother, and they were both just holding hands and crying.
Q: That must make you feel good.
LL: Yeah, of course it does.
Q: Are there any other projects you're working on?
LL: I'm still working with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron on another movie, the Candy Darling story. And, we're in the midst of having it written right now. So that's another project I'm working on. And I'm doing another book with Mitchell Ivers from Simon and Schuster.
Q: What's that about?
LL: It's a book that . . . I can't really tell you what the whole thing is about because he'll kill me. It's a book of stories of people's lives.
Q: People in the entertainment field?
LL: Some yes and some no.
Q: What are some of your memories of Peter Allen?
LL: Oh, Peter Allen was my brother-in-law. Peter Allen was the older brother I never had. Peter Allen was one of the great talents. We all know how gifted he was, but I will always know Peter as my older brother, and somebody who I trusted, somebody who I could confide in, somebody who I adored, somebody who I loved, somebody who was part of my family and who will always be part of my legacy. And I met with Hugh Jackman a couple of years ago, and we spoke, and I think that Hugh Jackman — and I know Hugh before he was Hugh Jackman. I think he's very gifted. He's a great singer, and he will do Peter justice.
Q: What do you think there was about Peter Allen that made him such a great performer?
LL: Because he was unique and he was a performer. He wasn't the greatest singer, he wasn't the greatest [on] piano, but what he was a performer. When he put it all together, there was a miraculous package there.
Q: I love some of his songs.
LL: Right, but he wasn't just known for just being a songwriter. He was known as an incredible performer. That's what people don't understand — there are recording artists, there are songwriters, and then there are performers who do it all. And he was a performer who did everything. Peter Allen will be up there with the great performers of our time.
Q: Has your sister [Liza Minnelli] been to see your current show?
LL: Yes, she saw it a couple of years ago in the Hamptons, and she really liked it a lot. She really loved it.
Q: How's she doing?
LL: I don't know. [Laughs.] No, I stayed out of all that, and I still continue to stay away from things like that.
Q: Last question. When people hear the name Lorna Luft, what would you like them to think?
LL: "Let's go see her!" [Laughs.]
Q: Good luck with this show. Hopefully it will come to New York.
LL: Well, we want it to come to New York. That would be wonderful. We also know that it will be going to a lot of other places, so we're really thrilled with that. And, my kids — my daughter is like, "Just keep it here in Los Angeles." She's 13 and in school. And my son is 19 and in college in San Francisco and he's like, "Bring it up to San Francisco." I'm a mom 24/7. I have that responsibility. I've got a really, really full plate. Being a wife and a mother is number one on my plate, and I'm just really pleased to be working right now.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Tony Award winner Sutton Foster has joined the starry cast of the Sept. 22 Actors' Fund of America's benefit Chess concert. Foster replaces Lara Fabian — who departed the company due to scheduling conflicts — as Svetlana, the wife of the Russian chess player. Foster joins a cast that includes the previously announced Julia Murney as Florence, Adam Pascal as the American, Josh Groban as the Russian, Raul Esparza as the Arbiter, Norm Lewis as Molokov and Jonathan Dokuchitz as Walter. Tickets for the Chess concert are available by calling (212) 221 7300, ext. 133. For more information, go to www.actorsfund.org. . . . Marti Webb, the original star of Tell Me On a Sunday and Song & Dance, will be part of the London company of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Webb, a fixture on the London theatrical scene for over 30 years, will play Mrs. Meers at least two performances a week in the Tony-winning musical. Maureen Lipman is contracted to play the role of the white slave trader six times a week. The alternating schedule was arranged to allow Lipman time to care for her husband, writer Jack Rosenthal, who is undergoing cancer treatment. Starring Amanda Holden in the title role, the London production of Thoroughly Modern Millie begins previews at the Shaftesbury Theatre Oct. 11. The official opening of the Jeanine Tesori-Dick Scanlan-Richard Morris musical is set for Oct. 21. . . . Hugh Jackman won't be the only star from Down Under strutting his stuff on a New York stage this fall. On Sept. 20 the York Theatre Company will present a concert celebrating new theatrical talent from Australia at its Manhattan home, Saint Peter's Theatre. Among the performers scheduled to appear in G'day Cabaret are singers Simon Gleeson, Natalie O'Donnell and Deone Zanotto and dancers Ashley Warren and Adam Williams. Luke Hunter will be the evening's musical director with choreography by Ashley Wallen. Concertgoers can expect to hear cabaret standards, musical theatre tunes as well as works from new Australian writers. The evening's three vocalists have had leading roles in Australian productions of Les Misérables, Mamma Mia!, South Pacific, Into the Woods, Jolson, West Side Story, Chicago, Gypsy, Fame, Pacific Overtures and Footloose. Tickets for G'day Cabaret are priced at $45, $75 and $150; the latter two include priority seating and a post-performance reception. Call (212) 935-5824, ext. 25 for reservations. Saint Peter's Theatre is located at 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street. . . . Reva Rice — best known to Broadway audiences for creating the role of Pearl in the Broadway production of Starlight Express — will join the Broadway company of Chicago next month. Rice will succeed Deidre Goodwin as Velma Kelly Oct. 7. That day will also see the return of Charlotte d'Amboise, a frequent Roxie Hart, who now succeeds film star Melanie Griffith in the role. D'Amboise is scheduled to stay with the Kander and Ebb hit through Dec. 7. Current cast members Camille Saviola (Matron "Mama" Morton) and P. J. Benjamin (Amos Hart) have extended their contracts through Dec. 14. Brent Barrett is also among the current cast; he plays suave lawyer Billy Flynn. . . . Amanda Watkins has landed the role of Maria in the upcoming production of The Sound of Music at Paper Mill: The State Theatre of New Jersey. Watkins will play opposite Jekyll & Hyde's Robert Cuccioli (Captain Georg von Trapp) in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. The musical, which was immortalized on screen by Julie Andrews, will begin performances at the New Jersey theatre Oct. 29 with an official opening scheduled for Oct. 31 at 8 PM. The production will run through Dec. 14. Directed and choreographed by James Brennan, the musical will also feature Ed Dixon as Uncle Max and Donna English as Baroness Elsa Schraeder. Additional casting is expected shortly. The Paper Mill: The State Theatre of New Jersey is located in Millburn, N.J., on Brookside Drive. Visit www.papermill.org for more information.
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Oct. 11 with the Binghamton Philharmonic Pops in Binghamton, NY
Oct. 20 at the 14th Annual New York Cabaret Convention in New York, NY
Jan. 31, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
May 1, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert: Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Karen Mason in Concert:
Oct. 4 with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL
Oct. 18 at the Emelin Theater in NY
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!