To Lorna Luft, Judy Garland was simply ‘Mom’

Lorna Luft'. Pic: Comp
Lorna Luft'. Pic: Comp
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LORNA Luft is billed in Hollywood as ‘showbiz royalty’ but the actress and singer daughter of movie icon Judy Garland, is self-deprecating when asked about such sobriquets.

The youthful 62-year-old laughs off the description, “You have a pretty amazing Royal Family and a brand new little princess,” she says.

“I would never consider myself ‘showbiz royalty’. They call it that in America because we don’t have royals. You have a royal family here and we’re nowhere near it.”

Luft returns to the Capital this week to open the UK tour of a brand- new musical dedicated to the memory of her mother and her classic musical numbers.

The Songbook of Judy Garland highlights the life and career of the actress, and includes never before seen film clips and interviews, together with songs from some of her greatest films such as A Star Is Born, Meet Me In St Louis, Easter Parade and The Wizard Of Oz.

Recalling the origins of the show Luft explains, “It was not my idea. The producer David King had the idea, he went to Chris Manoe who went to Arlene Phillips, and then they called me. They said they wanted to do this as a tribute to mom and the music she left all of us.”

Surprisingly it’s the first time anyone has proposed such a show, the singer, who is the half-sister of Liza Minnelli, reveals.

“People have wanted to do her life story,” she says. “But I have already done that. I’ve made the movie, I’ve been there and done that. It’s already out there.”

That TV movie called Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, was based on Luft’s memoirs and won five Emmy Awards.

It chronicled Garland’s life from her first public performance to her tragic death in 1969, at the age of just 47.

Luft continues, “So, when they said they wanted to pay tribute to her music using unseen clips of numbers that were cut from her movies, I just thought that it sounded real fun, because we can’t forget what she left us.”

Directed by choreographer Arlene Phillips, The Songbook of Judy Garland premieres at the Playhouse on Friday, where Luft will be joined on stage by singer and Dancing on Ice winner Ray Quinn, West End favourites Louise Dearman, Rachel Stanley and Darren Bennet.

“It’s a great company and I love the fact that Arlene and I finally get to work together because we have been friends for more than 40 years,” adds Luft.

“Louise Dearman is such a talent and Rachel Stanley, who I did White Christmas with here, is wonderful, and Ray Quinn is so talented.

“It’s been wonderful watching them in rehearsal and realising how important all of this music is.

“Why are we still singing these songs?” she asks, “Why are we still doing this?

“It is because people want to go back. They want to remember where they were when they first heard these songs and then to introduce them to a whole new generation.”

Songs in the show include I Got Rhythm, The Trolley Song, The Man That Got Away, Get Happy, Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart, and the song that is synonymous with Judy Garland, Over The Rainbow.

There’s also one which is close to Luft’s heart, a song that, above all others, she recalls her mother singing. However, she’s not revealing which one it is.

“There is a song in the show that is very special to me... but I only tell the audience,” she laughs.

“You have to come along to find out.”

All the songs, of course, have a place in Luft’s heart. Each a lasting connection with her mother.

“I don’t have a favourite because that would make all the others not my favourite,” she explains.

“When I sing these songs it’s like...” she thinks for a moment, “ when you go outside and it’s cold, then you put on your favourite, favourite jumper, and it’s all warm and home-like.

“Or when you wrap yourself up in a great blanket; that’s what singing these songs feels like. It’s so familiar, so comforting, and so... normal.”

Luft, who appeared on stage regularly with her mother as a young girl, explains that while the world worshiped Garland, to her, she was always just ‘mom’. “She was everybody’s icon. She was my mom. I saw the parts that no one else saw. I saw here first thing in the morning in the white bathrobe.

“I saw her not as Judy Garland... I just saw her as my mom.

“When we went to her concerts I’d watch the audiences rush the stage and try to touch her and grab hold of her; these were grown-ups and I was a kid... I thought that was all a little strange.”

The Judy Garland Songbook, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm, £12.90-£38.90, 0844-871 3014