Friday, 12 June 2015

INTERVIEW - Lorna Luft

LORNA Luft made her showbiz debut aged 11, singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town on her mother Judy Garland’s TV show in 1963.
Now, 50 years later she’s starring in a touring production of The Songbook Of Judy Garland, a musical trip down memory lane, celebrating the life and music of the legend that was and is her mother.
The show will marry live performances of Judy’s songs including The Trolley Song, The Man That Got Away, Get Happy, I Got Rhythm and the iconic Over The Rainbow with some never before seen film clips and interviews.
It is coming to the New Wimbledon Theatre on June 16 for a week-long run and Lorna tells me she’s extremely excited at the prospect.
In fact during our chat the 61-year-old speaks very fondly of the town, a place she has visited many times and says it’s “like coming home”.
“I can’t wait to see all my family and friends when the show arrives in Wimbledon,” she says.
“It’s a beautiful theatre and I consider Wimbledon to be very special.”
But it’s the show Lorna really wants to talk about, describing it as a musical celebration of her mother’s life.
“It’s like a work in progress because we are still cutting things and adding things,” she says.
“But the audience can expect to be truly entertained and to be taken back in time with some movie clips and songs that they grew up.”
It boasts a star studded cast with Lorna joined on stage by the likes of Ray Quinn, Louise Dearman, Rachel Stanley and Darren Bennett as well as dancers The Boyfriends, named after Judy’s original dancers of the same name.
It is billed as the only show authorised by the late star’s estate and has been choreographed by Lorna’s long time friend, Arlene Phillips.
In fact the whole project came about after a chat Lorna had with Arlene.
"The idea was that of [producer] David [King] and Arlene," says Lorna. "Arlene and I have been friends for 40 years and we’d never worked on anything together before so it was a great opportunity and I jumped at it.
"She is such a positive force and is so smart - it’s been a joy and we’ve had a lot of fun.”
But with such an incredible back catalogue to draw on I ask if it was difficult to choose which of her late mother’s songs to feature.
“Oh absolutely!” she laughs. “The amount of material we had to go through to put in the show was incredible so it was a huge task!
“We chose songs that we loved and that we knew the audience loved and identified with. There are also some video and movie clips too which have never been seen before and which are fascinating.
“For example, there is a clip out of Easter Parade that was cut from the movie – it was a song that MGM felt was too modern but it was the first time Judy ever wore a tux and a fedora which ended up being her famous look.
“I think it will be nostalgic for the audience but they will see the real Judy shine through.”
While she remains secretive about her own personal favourite song – you’ll have to see the show to find out which it is – Lorna does admit that most hold special meanings for her and the rest of the cast.
“It’s emotional for the audience and at times I know people will be in tears,” she says. “Ray [Quinn] said he didn’t know how I was doing it because he was in tears but this is my comfort zone.
“I don’t think it’s tragic and sad. It’s sad she’s not here but look what she left us. Some people only get still photos of their parents but I have movies, books and TV shows as well – I’m very fortunate.
“And I’m very proud of the show,” she adds. “What we see on screen is her artistry, her amazing sense of humour and how funny she was. That’s the real person we see.”
Born in Santa Monica in 1952, Lorna was the first child of Judy Garland and her third husband Sidney Luft.
Her half sister Liza Minnelli, from Judy’s second marriage to director Vincente Minnelli, was six years older. Her young brother Joey arrived three years later.
And to Lorna, being born into and being part of Hollywood royalty was perfectly normal as was having celebrities of the day such as the likes of Frank Sinatra, who incidentally is Lorna’s godfather, and Sammy Davis Junior come around for dinner.
She concedes this isn’t the norm for most people but stresses it was normality for her.
“She was a working mum so we moved around a lot staying in different hotels as she was out on the road a lot,” says Lorna.
“She worked with the greatest directors and actors and was friendly with JFK and it wasn’t unusual to have these people in our lives - that's just the way it was. To us they weren’t famous, just friends of my mother’s.
“However, she was fiercely private about her home life and children and would never have had a camera in her house in some kind of reality show.
“But as a woman juggling work and kids in the 50s and 60s she was way ahead of her time. Back then it was usually the mums who were at home making dinner and cleaning the house and the husbands working. Nowadays we don’t give it a second thought.
“But she had a family to support with three kids and her own mother too. It wasn’t that she had to do it – she wanted to do what she did. She loved singing and performing and making movies – and we believed every single character she played because of her honesty.”
And Lorna says it was no surprise that she herself went into “the family business” and ended up as a highly successful stage, film and TV actress and singer in her own right.
“I didn’t do anything that was that unusual. My mother was the best she could be and was an inspiration to me as a human being - not just because of the love of music she instilled in me but because of her openness and complete demand that no on be treated differently.
"She was incredibly smart, kind and made us understand that people will be different all over the world and we have to be tolerant.
"That’s the legacy she left us and people who come and see the show will see that.”
So would Judy approve of the show I ask? Lorna laughs loudly.
“She would be directing it!” she says. “She would have been an amazing director. She knew what she wanted and was incredible and had her own mind.
“But she is definitely part of the cast and in the show she gets the last bow.”

The Songbook of Judy Garland is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre between June 16 and 20. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 for tickets.

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