When you’re Lorna Luft, the shadow of Judy Garland is inescapable. The Hollywood legend introduced her daughter to the world in a touching segment on her TV show, singing a new song, Lorna, to her.
As she grew up, Luft developed a mean pair of pipes herself and she’s gone on to make her living singing and acting around the world. And while she’s never traded on her mother’s name, she’s going to want to sing her best-known songs occasionally, the songs the public wants to hear.
Judy, The Songbook of Judy Garland, is a show, in which a couple of dozen tunes associated with the star are performed, and occasionally reinvented, by Luft and friends. Said friends include West End star Louise Dearman, whose rich voice more than does her songs justice, writes Tony Pycroft, after seeing her at the Grand Opera House in York.
There’s also former X Factor runner up to Leona Lewis and Dancing on Ice winner Ray Quinn, who tries hard but isn’t quite up there with the rest of the cast when it comes to singing for the theatre – he gives us Putting on the Ritz in several keys, none of which seem the right one. His dancing is better, but he still seems underpowered given his billing.
The major problem with the show is the lack of Lorna Luft. When she does finally emerge, the show comes alive. Luft is luminous, a powerful presence every bit as skilled with a song as Garland. She proves this immediately with a hypnotic pairing of Born in a Trunk and Rockabye Your Baby, and act one closer Swanee.
The second half has a lot more Luft and is all the better for it – when she’s not on stage, singing and sharing stories, the Judy Garland Songbook remains entertaining, but the magic isn’t there. So while Dearman’s Stormy Weather is heartbreaking; it lacks the sheer star power Luft brings.
Luft’s strongest performance was her second half duet, sung with West End star Louise Dearman (most famous for having played both Glinda and Elphaba in Wicked). Singing the Get Happy/Happy Days/Hooray for Love medley made famous by a heartbreaking Garland and youthful Streisand television performance, Luft nodded to the rather large shoes they were about to attempt to fill (“No pressure!” was one of her many self-deprecating jokes). Asking Dearman if she was ready, and receiving the reply “I don’t know!”
As it is, you leave the theatre appreciating once more the remarkable woman that was Judy Garland, but wanting to hear more from her younger daughter. If Judy was watching Lorna Luft, you can bet she’d be very proud.