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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 17, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 46
Lorna Luft: On her family, Irving Berlin and performing in 5th Avenue Theatre's Holiday Inn
Arts & Entertainment
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Lorna Luft: On her family, Irving Berlin and performing in 5th Avenue Theatre's Holiday Inn

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

IRVING BERLIN'S
HOLIDAY INN
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
November 24-December 31


Lorna Luft has been a performer all her life. As the daughter of the legendary Judy Garland and the impresario director Sid Luft (A Star is Born), she has hailed from one of the greatest show-biz families in American history. She made her film debut at age 11 in the 1963 film I Could Go On Singing (her mother's final film), and then appeared on 'The Judy Garland Show' later that year. She's become accomplished on stage, and in concert, cabaret and in various stage performances. She has also become a film actress and has written an autobiography. Currently, she is starring in the 5th Avenue's seasonal production of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Lorna Luft: Well. That one is a bit obvious. I was literally born into the business, so I really didn't have any outside influences. It's like being born into a family of doctors or lawyers; you tend to be drawn (and go into) that field. I was born into it and sort of went into the family business.

Andrews-Katz: How would you describe the relationship between your mother and father?

Luft: I'd say a huge amount of love. A huge amount of emotions. A huge amount of laughter. Definitely some chaos. I guess you could say it was all the emotions you can think of wrapped up in a great big box.

Andrews-Katz: Despite being on different sides in show business, was your mother or father more influential in your career?

Luft: It was sort of the big elephant in the room that no one talked about. They never discouraged me, nor did they really encourage me. They let me make up my own mind. When I said 'I want to do this,' they looked at each other and said, 'Well, here comes another one.' It wasn't talked about or discussed. We never had any sort of family meeting about it.

Andrews-Katz: You spent a good portion of your life in London doing cabarets and spending time with The Who and The Rolling Stones. How would you describe the music scene during those times?

Luft: Oh my God! It was the British Invasion and it changed every facet of all professions from music to social lives to everything! It was the most exciting time to be in London, in the late 1960's and early 1970's. You can't imagine how new it all was. Everything was new from the fashion to all the incredible music. It was where Britain really became the beacon of Pop music and Rock 'n' Roll.

Andrews-Katz: In 2001, your autobiography, Me and My Shadows, was made into a television miniseries. Was it odd to see your life portrayed by someone else?

Luft: No. Alison Pill (who played young Lorna) is a fantastic, fantastic actress. I call her 'Mini-Me.' She is a brilliant woman who has a fantastic career, and is now married and a mom herself. I couldn't have been happier for anyone. I can't tell you how grateful to Alison I am for her portrayal of myself. She is one of the most talented young actresses of today.

Andrews-Katz: What part of your family legacy has been the hardest to separate yourself from?

Luft: I don't think that way. I don't think of separating myself from my family's legacy. I am a part of it. I will always be a part of a legacy that has become so important, not only to children, but to teenagers, young people growing up and elders. I don't separate myself. I am very honored to be a part of that. I have a responsibility to hold my mother's legacy in the best light.

Andrews-Katz: You have survived alcoholism and breast cancer. What advice would you give to anyone reading this and struggling with either?

Luft: The only advice I can give to anyone facing a life altering condition, is realize that the first thing you have to do is to be proactive in getting care. That means health care, whether it is for the disease of alcohol and drug abuse, or if it is cancer. You must be proactive in getting help! Because the information, the knowledge, the science and the facilities [to help] are all there.

Andrews-Katz: How did you first get involved with performing in the musical Holiday Inn?

Luft: The 5th Avenue called me. I've been with White Christmas for a while (on Broadway) and now with Holiday Inn. The greatest news is that I'm still singing Irving Berlin at Christmas time!

Andrews-Katz: Since your family was close to Irving Berlin and his family, what kind of nostalgia do you feel, performing the music from Holiday Inn?

Luft: I feel that it isn't just nostalgia. It's the fabric of the Great American Songbook. Nobody loved this country as much as Irving Berlin. I mean he wrote 'God Bless America.' I feel that it is an honor to perform these songs. I've met two of the Berlin Sisters, and they have always been incredibly generous and great to me. I guess I feel that responsibility of making sure that we do right by his work. Certainly, Holiday Inn is the biggest love letter to Irving Berlin, and not just because he wrote it. It is a love letter to everyone that comes into the theater.

Andrews-Katz: What is it about Irving Berlin's music that has made it so well beloved and part of the American Songbook?

Luft: They were really great songs. We don't have to do a lot of soul searching on the man that did such great work. He knew how to write melodies and lyrics that linger and are remembered. Especially when we were going through World War II, he wrote all those patriotic songs. Then there are the love songs and the songs that are pure fun. As Jerome Kern said, 'Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He IS American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time.'

Andrews-Katz: Your mother's death is associated with The Stonewall Riots. What can you tell us about 'The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative' (SIGBI - http://www.Stonewallinitiative.org)?

Luft: I know people that were there that night. It had to do with a lot of things, including my mother's passing. It had to do with the tension that built up and built up. When SIGBI asked me to be on the Board, I was honored. What they do is really the grass roots in American towns where the LGBTQ community is too frightened [to speak out], and helps with financial aid and education. It is there for every kind of social issue that we are facing. It's also for the people that need the education, so that they realize we are ALL equal. We are ALL human beings. Especially in today's times, this is such a big message. To treat people with respect, humanity and dignity. I was (and am) thrilled to be on the Board. I was there when the organization was formed in 2016. The LGBTQ community is very important to me. I was raised in a home that was color blind, and a place where everybody must be treated as an equal and with respect and humanity. I watched my mother do that. I know how much she hated bigotry and hated intolerance. That was how I was raised. That's how I raised my two children (my son now lives in Seattle), and my three grandchildren. It's important to make sure we are all equally human. When they asked me to be on the Board, I immediately said 'yes' because of what the organization is trying to do. It's really an incredible honor to be not only on the board but also associated with a building that is so iconic. Now, because of President Obama, it has become an American Landmark. I have never been happier than to be there last year at the dedication ceremony.

Andrews-Katz: Why do you think the women in your family have become gay icons?

Luft: I don't think there is one answer to that. I hold the LGBTQ community with such respect because they have kept my mother's memory in such a great light - it's like a Beacon. I don't know that there is an answer to that. I wish we didn't have to have labels for everyone, but right now we do, and that's the reality. I'm deeply respectful and very, very grateful (and honored) that the LGBTQ community has wrapped their arms around all the women in my family. The only other answer is, that you [the LGBTQ community] have excellent taste.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of all limitations - what would it be and why?

Luft: I honestly don't think about that. I prefer to think about what I am doing right now. I think it is important to be in the moment. 'Louise Badger' (Holiday Inn) is a dream role. I don't think outside of that because you find, if you don't play that role you really want, or you get told you're too old, then that dream is crushed. Take what you are doing right now to live in the moment, on everything you do. And be grateful.

Lorna Luft has appeared on Broadway, in London's West End, and has traveled the world with concert and cabaret performances. She has appeared in the cult-classic Grease 2 and has even played 'The Wicked Witch' in a stage version of The Wizard of Oz.

Paramount Pictures released Holiday Inn in 1942. Originally starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dare, the film included a full score written by Irving Berlin. The film introduced the (unexpected) hit 'White Christmas.' The film's number 'Abraham' was performed in blackface as part of a 'Minstrel Show' but after great controversy is usually omitted in the annual showing of the film. The stage production began at Broadway's Studio 54 in 2013.

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