Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Lorna Luft Gives a Stellar Performance
The Empire Plush Room, San Francisco's leading venue for intimate cabaret, is presenting acclaimed singer Lorna Luft in her new show called Lorna Luft: Live in Concert, which features highlights from her recent West End and Los Angeles Canon Theatre show Songs My Mother Taught Me. She won two Ovation Awards for the show from the Los Angeles critics. She will be appearing at the intimate club at the Hotel York, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco, through January 8th. This marks Ms. Luft's first appearance in our city since the early days of the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel.
The versatile and vibrant singer charms the audience for ninety minutes with her warm and wholesome voice. Some of her vibrato links her to her famous mother Judy Garland, but this echo is only audible when she starts to belt out some of the songs. Her voice is essentially very different from that of her half-sister Liza Minnelli or their famous mother. There is none of the throb of sadness that Judy had, even on some of her mother's most famous songs. Luft's voice is big, and her phrasing is perfect. She is backed by a great quartet consisting of her husband Colin Freeman on piano, Daniel Fabricant on bass, Tim McGregor on drums, and Ross Grant on guitar.
Luft comes out in a sleek black pants suit and a shining face that lights up the whole room. She goes immediately into a wonderful version of "Who Will Buy?" from Oliver, starting slow then breaking out into a powerhouse ending. The singer immediately segues into Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" with a great swinging version by the back-up quartet.
She draws from her experience in musicals and concerts, and offers tributes to the people with whom she worked - including her brother-in-law Peter Allen, by singing two of his famous songs "I Could Marry the Rain" and "I Honestly Love You." She talks about her two-year stint as Adelaide in the touring production of Guys and Dolls and sings the title song. She has special memories of her friend Jerry Herman and sings "It's Today" from Mame and "It Only Takes a Moment" from Hello, Dolly!. She relates a story about her mother wanting so much to play Mame in the Warner film but Jack Warner would not have it due to Judy's work habits. Lorna concludes that set with "Time Heals Everything" from Mack and Mabel, building that number to heart wrenching perfection. This is the most touching moment of the night.
Burt Bacharach is given a great tribute as Lorna sings a medley of ten of this great composer's songs, ending with "What the World Now Needs Is Love." A great compilation of songs that were never nominated for an Oscar includes a beautiful rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Singin' in the Rain."
Of course, Ms. Luft pays tribute to her mother and sings "Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" in her own inimitable style followed by one of my favorite songs, "The Man That Got Away" from Star is Born (I had the extreme pleasure of working on this scene in the film). There are stories about Judy and her "wicked" sense of humor, especially one about how Lorna and her mother changed all of the shoes waiting outside the rooms at the Savoy Hotel in London.
As her encore, Ms. Luft offered another Garland standard, "San Francisco," and this was pure show business. The Los Angeles Times describes her voice best when they called it a "heart stopping and thrilling incandescent revelation of virtuoso proportions not to be missed."
Lorna Luft: Live in Concert will be at the York Hotel's Empire Plush Room at 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco through January 8th . For reservations, call 415-885-2800 or visit www.EmpirePlushRoom.com. Opening on January 11th will be the legendary Kitty Carlisle Hart In Honor of her 95th Birthday followed by Jody Watley on January 19th and Paula West on January 24th through March 4th.