Lorna Luft has carved her own legendary career as an actress and singer. A star was born to Judy Garland and Sid Luftalso making her the half-sister of fellow performer Liza Minnelli. She showed early talents at the age of 11 years old by singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on The Judy Garland Show on TV. She continued making appearances on the small screen that eventually led to Broadway in such hits as Guys and Dolls as well as Gypsy.
She recorded her debut CD, Lorna Luft: Songs My Mother Taught Me, as a tribute to her mother's songbook. Her AIDS charity work has been prolific over the years, giving back to the community that has supported her family tree.
Luft tackled the movie Grease 2 as Paulette Rebchuck, then followed it with a book about her family called Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir that became an Emmy winning miniseries on TV.
Before Luft makes her way to Aurora, Ill., for a Sunday, Feb. 12 performance, she talked about her life and family.
Windy City Times: Hi, Lorna. I have been studying up on your career and was amazed to find out you have been performing at least since age 11. Is that correct?
Lorna Luft: That's about right.
WCT: Was your mom a stage mom and trying to push you to be in the biz?
LL: No, it was sort of that white elephant in the room. She let us make our own decisions, but she didn't encourage or discourage. She just didn't talk about it. She thought maybe we would make up our own minds. When we decided to do it she backed us a hundred percent.
WCT: What is it like to look back on the old shows?
LL: It's great. Some people only have a still photograph. I have television shows, recordings, all sorts of things, so I feel that I am very, very lucky.
WCT: You just performed in Irving Berlin's White Christmas this past holiday so you are still performing those Christmas songs.
LL: I finished White Christmas about four weeks ago. I love doing that show and have done it for the last five years. I am always very grateful when they call me to do White Christmas. It is one of my favorite shows. What I think I enjoy most is all the cast become sort of a family. We all keep in touch with one another even from the first year. It was a wonderful experience at a fantastic theatre, the Paper Mill Playhouse. There was nothing but joy for October, November, or December.
WCT: It must be your favorite time of year.
LL: It is my favorite time of year in the fact that I am employed. It is not my personal favorite time of year.
WCT: What is?
LL: Spring. There is something about after going through a miserably cold winter about seeing daffodils and crocus breaking through with life. I love spring.
WCT: You have done tons of Broadway shows. Do you have a favorite moment from any of them?
LL: No; all the ones that I have done hold a special place for me. I'm old enough that shows I have done in the original cast are now seeing revivals. That is interesting because Promises, Promises was one of my first shows. I went to see my girlfriend, Kristen Chenoweth, and Sean Hayes and I thought, "My God! I am looking at revivals now of shows that weren't that long ago." I think if you have the opportunity to do eight shows a week just treasure it because there are so many people that would love to be in your shoes.
WCT: Speaking of shoes, you did the Wizard of Oz.
LL: I did in the UK. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse to play the Wicked Witch. I have to say I found a new respect for all of the girls that have been in Wicked and have to wear that green makeup eight shows a week. I found it to be the worst.
WCT: You performed at Carnegie Hall with Rufus Wainwright to your mother's song "After You've Gone."
LL: He's a charming lovely guy, that Rufus. I have nothing but nice things to say about him. He's delightful.
WCT: I loved the Judy Davis movie that you worked on from your book, Me and My Shadows.
LL: Thank you.
WCT: Her depiction was amazing.
LL: I think she did an extraordinary job on that movie. All of us were on the same page from Tammy Blanchard to Judy Davis and the fantastic director Robert Allan Ackerman. Funny enough, last night I had dinner with the writer of the series. We all realize what a special and unique miniseries that was.
WCT: Do you still talk to Liza often?
LL: I talked to her yesterday.
WCT: For your show in Aurora will you be singing "Chicago" for us?
LL: Absolutely. It is one of my favorite arrangements. I adore Chicago. I have a special place for that city. It is the Midwest but it has the same excitement of New York. I think it might be colder than Palm Springs there.
WCT: Just a bit!
LL: Should I wear a coat or scarf?
WCT: Maybe. [Laughs]
LL: You have had it pretty mild there so I won't see penguins or polar bears in the audience, I hope.
WCT: Do you tell stories between songs in your act?
LL: Yes. This whole show is very scripted. I think it is very important to tell a story to match what you are about to sing. This show is written by two talented people named Ken and Mitzie Welch, who wrote all of the Carol Burnett and Barry Manilow shows. He introduced me to them. They wrote Songs My Mother Taught Me. It is like a theatre piece where it has a beginning, middle and end.
WCT: It has some hi-tech aspects to it, I heard.
LL: It is all multimedia. It is what makes Song so special and that is why we have been doing it for 11 years now. It is in fact like coming into my living room. These are parts in my life that I grew up in that I share with the audience. It is interesting because I know what is coming next but most of the audience doesn't. To watch them laugh, cry and go through a roller-coaster of emotion is terrific.
WCT: You have a duet with your mother on the album.
LL: We have a long duet. There is a whole mother daughter medley. The technology that we were able to do that with is great. We are putting two orchestras together because we couldn't take hers off the tracks we are using. My husband who is my musical director had to match her orchestra seamlessly. We can now achieve things that were impossible thirty or forty years ago.
WCT: I asked Lucille Ball's daughter this same question: Do you know how Judy felt about her gay following?
LL: You have to remember something: Back in the 1960s there was no gay following. It was different. The whole gay community was incredibly closeted. It is not what it is today. The gay community has made huge strides forward and they still have a long way to go.
I have always been incredibly grateful to the gay community for keeping her image, name and likeness in the forefront. I have been at so many rallies and marches because to me it is what we strive for to be in the human race and be kind to each other, understanding, and tolerant. If people have to demonstrate to get that kind of respect then I am there with them.
WCT: Well, our community appreciates that.
LL: That was the way I was raised. We were raised colorblind to any kind of different. I think show business has been more understanding of people who are different. When you think about what we do it's pretty nuts.
WCT: You have legions of fans for Grease 2.
LL: [Laughs] You know a lot of people love that movie. I met up with Pat Birch when I was in New York for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS. I saw the entire cast of Grease on that stage because it was a huge anniversary for the show. Pat worked on the Broadway show, the first movie and directed part two. I am grateful that people enjoyed our little movie. We didn't go out to make Shakespeare we were just having a really good time!
Lorna Luft celebrates her mother with a swinging seven-piece band at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Sunday, Feb. 12, at 4 p.m. Visit www.paramountaurora.com or call 630-896-6666 for ticket details.
For lots more on Lorna, visit www.lornaluft.com .