After the mass shooting at a club in Orlando on June 12 killed 49 people and wounded 53 more, Pride became a little darker than in years past. But Lorna Luft, the daughter of Judy Garland (and show business impresario Sid Luft) responded by doing something she’d never done in her half-century career: She sang “Over the Rainbow.”
“I think there was a gasp, because I’d never done it,” Luft says. “And because what people were feeling: the complete lack of hope, not comprehending what we’d all just seen.”
Left joins Michael Feinstein, San Francisco’s own guardian of the American Songbook, for four performances later this month — Sept. 28 through Oct. 1 — that honor her mother’s contributions to American culture.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
I know the set list has not yet been finalized, but the show is essentially the Judy Garland songbook?
Yes. I don’t know what Michael is planning on doing. I know what I’m doing, and we are going to discuss what we’re going to do together. Michael’s just been so busy on tour, and so have I. We’ll go through what would make sense and what would be fun and what we think the audience would like. It’s going to be an evening of a tribute to the greatest female entertainer ever — who I was lucky enough to call my mom.
What about her exactly shined, to you? What is the legacy of Judy Garland?
The legacy of Judy Garland, to me, is her entire body of work. There’s only one example of a child star becoming a star all of her adult life — there really isn’t anyone else, between my mom and Elizabeth Taylor. There isn’t anyone who continued from being a kid all the way through being an adult, who did the kind of work, the kind of film, the kind of television, the kind of concerts, radio — and that is her legacy. Her body of work is really extraordinary. Look at all she did, altogether, and it’s quite jaw-dropping in the short amount of time that we had her. Lots of people just look at this one movie, The Wizard of Oz, and I always say, “Great, make a list, go look at these, go listen to these performances, and then lets have a serious discussion.” And people come back and say, “Oh my God!” And I say, “Yeah, oh my God!”
You’ve been very protective of mother’s legacy. You worked with Rufus Wainwright on Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, but I know you were skeptical — at least at first — of Wicked. Do you just trust Michael implicitly?
I’m very protective of my mother’s legacy. All of us who have that responsibility of a very famous parent, my feeling is that if you are going to do something, do it in with the respect that the person deserves. My feeling is that when people do things, I always go in hoping they are going to do it with love and respect. Most of the time, I’m always sort of right. But if you’re going to do what I call the cheap way out, the sort of tabloid shows, I’m not interested, I won’t support it, and I won’t talk about it. It’s just a responsibility that I take really seriously.
Wicked really was an interesting idea, to do a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, and people love the show. I don’t find Wicked anything else but real entertainment. I’m protective of The Wizard of Oz, but when shows are done with the love and respect for the story, I think it’s great.
You recently sang “Over the Rainbow” for the first time in your life. You must have flirted with the idea in the past. Did you just decide that the time was now?
No, I’ve never sung “Over the Rainbow” only because I’ve always felt, “Why would you want to try to improve on perfection?” I’ve never sung it, I’ve never thought about singing it. It was just something I always sort of kept in — if you want to call it the beautiful crystal on the mantel — and when I was doing Pride and this complete atrocity happened, I thought to myself, “There’s no other song that represents hope better than this song.” I said to my husband, “If I’m ever going to sing it, this is the time.” And he said, “I think you’re right.” And I did it. It was, I think, the emotional value of that with the audience (and of course it’s on YouTube). I did it, and now it goes back on the mantel.
I‘m wondering if there are any things coming that you haven’t done in the past. For instance, you and your sister [Liza Minnelli] touring together.
Once I finish with Michael I’m going into rehearsal for White Christmas.
That’s right, you’re coming back as Martha Watson [in San Francisco, Dec. 14-24]
Yes, so not this year, but the idea of doing something — truly, it has always just been a scheduling thing, when we can do it. We did the Tony Awards together, and then of course I put on a concert in New York after my first battle with breast cancer, and we recreated the Tony Awards. We always talk about it.
In the past, you’ve said you’re reluctant to show The Wizard of Oz to your granddaughter, because it was scary. Has she taken the plunge?
No, we have not shown it to her yet, She’s only two. My grandson is only eight weeks, so I don’t think he’s ready. When Jordan is ready, I think that we’ll all sit down with her and show her the movie and explain things, cause it’s a scary movie. I’ve never thought of it as a children’s movie.
With Gene Wilder having passed recently, it’s funny to think that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also a children’s classic, and it’s terrifying.
I don’t think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a children’s movie. If you look at Roald Dahl’s work, it’s sort of dark children’s stories. I mean it’s brilliant and of course ground-breaking and all of that. I’m so grateful that I was able to meet Gene Wilder, and I was so grateful that I lived in a time when we all got to enjoy his work, cause he truly was just a brilliant and sweet and wonderful dear human being.
Obviously your mother’s greatest hits hog a lot of attention — The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy at Carnegie Hall — but is there anything of hers, film or music, that strikes you as a performance that you wish got more attention?
You know, that’s an interesting question. There are a couple of films that I just don’t think got the attention. Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry I wish people would look at, because her performance was so wonderful as a young child in that film. If you go back and look at The Clock, that was the first film that she did where she didn’t sing. Those are the things I try to encourage people to look at, because I want people to realize the whole scope of the person. That’s what I try to encourage. Especially young people who come up and ask me about her, and all they know are musicals, I say, “Go look at some of the other things she did. It gives you a more educated view of her as a performer.”
Lorna Luft and Michael Feinstein Salute Judy Garland, Sept. 28 – Oct. 4, $80-$100, at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., 866-663-1063 or feinsteinsatthenikko.com