I didn’t know what to expect from Lorna Luft who played last night in Sydney. I mean, I’d heard her CD, and I’d heard two radio interviews. I was expecting a kind of old fashioned broadway show, but beyond that I didn’t know what else to expect. I must admit, though, I thought the first half was a little mixed. There were moments of sheer joy, where she was totally in her element on stage, singing wonderfully and connecting strongly with the audience. And there were other moments when she sometimes struggled with the material. Sometimes the phrasing wasn’t quite right, and other times the key wasn’t really suited to her. But even when that was the case, she was able to save each song with a tremendous final note. “She’s great at those big notes”, I whispered to my friend Graeme who came along with me last night.
In the second half, she re-emerged to re-create the stage show, “Songs My Mother Taught Me”, which, in her own words was about coming to grips with her tremendous musical legacy. As she related, at one point, you can’t go into a library and ask for a self-help book about how to behave as the daughter of a musical legend. For a long time she rebelled, telling us “I died my hair purple and hung out at Studio 54”. I also read somewhere the other day she performed as a backing vocalist on one of Blondie’s early albums. As her own children began to ask questions about their grandmother, Judy Garland, Lorna explained she began to come to grips with her demons.
The second half of the show recounts the story of Judy Garland, and along the way touches on three other important influences in her life, Dean Martin (Dean’s daughter is Lorna’s best friend), Sammy Davis Junior and Frank Sinatra (her godfather). There were some genuinely touching moments, and some wonderful anecdotes. My favourite anecdote was about when the family was living at the Savoy, and, arriving home one night she asked her mother why everyone placed their shoes outside their rooms at night. When Judy explained it was so they could be shined for the following day, Judy then had the idea of swapping the shoes. Lorna explained they swapped shoes over three floors. “But mamma, don’t you think we’ll get caught”, Lorna remembered. “Do you honestly think they’ll believe Judy Garland would do this?”, Lorna remembers her saying.
Clearly though, she has her mother in perspective. While there were no tales of the alcohol and drug abuse in the show, Lorna said. “Mamma spent money even when there was none”, with a tinge of sadness in her voice and on her face.
The second half of the show was tight, entertaining, and a really entertaining show.
It was an old-fashioned kind of entertainment in some ways. In stark contrast to some of the more introspective, almost shy peformances you often see on stage these days, Lorna (like Judy and Liza) really knows how to put on a show. Big, ballsy, brassy. It was no wonder the crowd jumped to its feet on more than one occasion, quite spontaneously.
Before the show we were told there was to be no flash photography due to the program being taped for replay on “Ovation” later this year. I can’t wait to see it back.
After the show, we caught the bus up the street to “The Sly Fox”, a mixed gay-straight-lesbian bar on Enmore Road. Last night it was mostly a lesbian crowd, and it was also karaoke night. Ironically, with about 15 lesbian women on stage preparing to sing Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”, it was only the gay men in the bar (and some older women) who seemed to know the song word for word, with the younger women having to use the cheat sheet.
A similar situation happened when a group of young men got up to sing “Macho Man”. I loved the look on their faces when they suddenly realised they had to sing verses as well as choruses. Have you ever read the lyrics to the verses of “Macho Man”? Totally obscure and very difficult to sing along with. “They should have tried YMCA”, I said to Graeme at one point, “At least you can sing along to the verses too”.
After a couple of beers, we headed off home, having enjoyed our night of Lorna and Lesbians.