Judy Garland strikes many as a tragic figure, suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, unhappy in love - she married five times - and often suffering from depression. Her eldest daughter Liza Minnelli was often on suicide watch, and would have a stomach pump on hand in preparation for her mother’s overdose attempts. Liza may well have saved her mother’s life on more than one occasion. Knowing these facts merely makes Judy Garland more vulnerable and therefore adoring to her public, but it is hard to believe that life for her children was not an intolerable hell.
It is these memories of her tragic mother that her youngest daughter Lorna Luft has exorcised in her show “Songs My Mother Taught Me”, in which she celebrates her mother’s legend, music and memories. For Luft, Judy Garland was first and foremost her mother, a mother who she adored and who died when Luft was only 16 years old. It is hardly surprising knowing Luft’s background that the show should have a heavy dose of sickly-sweet sentimentality. What daughter does not want to share happy memories of her mother, no matter her age!
The show opens with the voice of Judy Garland saying, “This is my daughter”, as a picture of Judy Garland with a very young Luft is projected on to a screen, and thus the stage is set for Luft to takes us on a musical journey of her relationship with her mother. Luft tells of how the neighbours, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, would call round to play poker, and how the gossip columnist, who in a peevish fit of envy at never being invited to these events, nicknamed them The Rat Pack. She tells us of her mother’s sense of fun by recounting how Garland took revenge on a former boyfriend and how she played a prank on the guests of the Savoy Hotel.
Though one is able to understand why sentimentality runs throughout this show, and therefore willingly endure the vast amounts that Luft unapologetically serves up, the show does become morbidly mushy when she talks about her mother’s death. For Luft, her mother is a ‘guardian angel’ constantly watching over her. She recounts how not long after her mother’s death, she looked up at the sky one night to see a single star shining next to the moon, before remarking how we all become stars when we die.
In the second act the projector broke and so we were spared imagers of Luft’s two children though we still had to listen to their recorded voice, asking to hear stories about their grandmother, in the same voice that children may ask to hear about Snow White or Cinderella. Under the pretext of answering her children’s questions Luft takes us on a whirlwind tour of her mother’s incredible career singing some of her mother’s favourite songs along the way, such as “The Man That Got Away”, “San Francisco”, “I Can't Give You Anything But Love”, “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart”, “Swanee” and “Chicago”, to name just a few!
Luft, may not physically resemble her mother, but she has inherited some of her mother’s incredible talent. Luft is able to belt out a show tune; her voice clearly ringing in the rafters, though she lacks the emotion that Judy Garland was able to bring to her songs. This is especially noticeable when Luft sings a virtual duet with her mother, I was admiring Loft’s voice until she is joined by a recording of Judy Garland singing, at which point I quickly realised that as good as Lorna Loft is, her voice fades in comparison.
What other critics had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for EVENING STANDARD says, "Lorna Luft....is claiming her 15 minutes in the borrowed limelight. And it is not a pretty sight." THE GUARDIAN says, "The show is purest showbusiness." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Astonishingly over-the-top show." CLIVE DAVIS for THE TIMES says, "Offers more treacle than insights." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Luft is a bore."