Most people know Lorna Luft as a singer, actress, author, and of course, the daughter of Judy Garland, but after interviewing her this past weekend, what I found was a courageous woman whose determination, love, humor, and strength got her through the most difficult time of her life. Now, through the American songbook, Lorna is taking this experience and bringing it to Feinstein's/54 Below in her new show Triumph which will play January 6th at 7pm and January 8th at 7pm and 9:30pm. Click here for tickets!
1. First off, Congratulations on being cancer free! Can we talk about your bravery & strength through all this? You were diagnosed with breast cancer 3 yrs ago and then 18 months later it returned. How did you find the strength to fight this vigorous fight again? The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was pretty much an unknown, but this time I knew what I was facing. I knew what I had to go through. I thought to myself, "Screw You cancer, you are not going to win." This time around, it wasn’t so much strength as it was anger that it had come back. I think anger is a driving force. I didn’t use my anger in a negative way, I used it in a positive way. But you can have an attitude of being angry and let it defeat you or you can be angry and say, "Okay, now I’m going to go out and do something." I thought, "No, this isn’t happening again, cancer is not going to get me." All my doctors told me my attitude was 90% of my healing.
2. What have you learned about yourself through having breast cancer that you didn’t know before? I think you find out how far you can go, what your body can take, what your mind can take, and what your emotional state can take. It’s pretty amazing. The human body is extraordinary and going through something like this really does test your how much your body can take. I mean, I had a 7-hour surgery. I had part of 7 ribs removed, part of my chest wall and sternum removed and had a total mastectomy. I had two tumors the size of golf balls taken out and had the lateral muscle in my back stretched all the way to my front. That’s a lot! And 16 weeks later I was on stage singing! But this whole experience taught me to live everyday to the fullest without really knowing what will happen tomorrow.
3. How did it feel to be back on the stage? It was scary. It was exhilarating. It was a huge wave of grateful to the people who got me there. I had extraordinary doctors, physical therapists and vocal coaches. We all worked together, but I did it. They were there and on my team, but I ran the race. I could have been like a race horse and come up lame or I could have crossed the finish line and I crossed the finish line.
4. This January you are returning to Feinstein's/54 Below after a triumphant debut. What are looking you forward to about this return? This was my goal to get back up on a stage after going through a pretty life altering surgery that was just 17 weeks ago. The show is called Triumph because I triumphed over breast cancer. I’m just grateful that I am able to get back on a stage and do what I do after going through a pretty rough couple of months. This is my Thank You to incredible surgeons, physical therapists, and a team of cancer doctors who got me through all of this.
Feinstein's/54 Below is truly one of the greatest clubs in NYC because of the history and I KNOW about that history. Ohhhh yes! I mean I was lucky enough to go through the whole Studio 54 years and I had a great time. I’m not going to say I didn’t. I had a GREAT time. Trust me, that basement didn’t look like what it does now. It’s always a joy to play there. And coming to New York is a joy. When people say, "Oh, but it’s January," I say, "How fantastic that I made it to January to go to New York."
5. For someone who has never seen you before, why should they buy a ticket to this show? It's going to be a night of entertainment. Through a whole genre of music, it's a show that will touch upon my heritage, myself, and what you can relate to in your daily life. This is a show about honesty. I don’t shy away from what I’ve gone through. I address it with humor and being as honest to the audience as I can be and I’ve picked material that shows humor, resilience, and grateful.
6. What do you like most about performing in concert? I love the relationship between an audience and myself. I love looking at them. I love watching them sing along when they know the songs. I love watching them have a good time or sometimes shed a tear. I love that relationship. I really do.
7. Did you always want to be a singer/actress or did you ever consider another career? I think because of where I came from I didn’t do anything unusual, I just went into the family business. I mean, if somebody were from a family of lawyers, somebody is going to be a lawyer, if somebody is from a family of doctors, somebody is going to be a doctor. I think if I became a neurosurgeon, that would have been really unusual. I don’t think I did anything out of the ordinary.
8. In 2007, you released Songs My Mother Taught Me, which was the first time you sang your mother’s songs. In that show, you mention that you hadn’t sung your mother’s songs previously because of fear. What gave you the courage at that time to finally sing her songs? I think just being the age I was. People wanted me to do it for a long, long time, but I wasn’t ready. I was too scared because it is overwhelming. In my 20s, I was just trying to make my way in the sand. In my 30s, I was having my children and raising them. In my 40s, I thought to myself, "What am I going to tell them?" In my 50s, the fear then went away because I was still in the business. I was still being asked to perform. I was still being asked to sing and I thought to myself, "Wow, I have a base. I’m ready to do this. I’m ready to take on this immense library of music and unbelievable library of movies and television shows and specials and radio performances and I want to make sure that I pick up the torch and keep going with it." I want to say "This was mine and I want to share this with you."
9. How did it feel to let go of the fight you had previously had with yourself of not wanting to sing your mother's songs? I think that fight ended because I wrote my book first. When I wrote my book and told MY story (not anyone else’s) then made the mini-series (which received fantastic accolades), it was then, that I felt like it was okay to take on the musical library and that’s when I did Songs My Mother Taught Me.
10. What is one thing your mother taught you that you’ve carried with you through today? I carry so much of her with me. I would imagine the driving force that she not only left me with, but is instilled in my being, is to have a sense of humor about everything. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Find some humor in yourself or in a situation that may be really challenging and devastating. You might not see the humor in that moment, but an hour later or sometime later, try to find something funny about it. That will help get you through it.
Me: That is terrific advice. You know Joan Rivers always said you have to find the funny in everything.
Lorna: You do. She did find the funny in everything. She was a remarkable, remarkable woman and was very kind and generous to me. Boy do I miss her!
11. You have done so much already between film, television, stage work, concerts, authoring a book. What haven’t you done yet that you would like to? I don’t think about what I haven’t achieved. I think about what am I going to achieve today. That is what having breast cancer taught me. I think if you think about what you haven’t achieved, sometimes you can come up really disappointed because it may not happen, so why not focus on what you can achieve today. That’s how I live my life.
12. What is something you and your best friend like to do? I am very, very lucky to have a core group of people that I talk to pretty much every day, every other day, and not only in this country, but also in the UK. The one thing I like to do is really listen to what they are doing and what’s going on with them and the joy and the laughter we spend whether it be on the phone or when we seeing one another. It’s important to always keep that line of communication open.
I also have a group of very close friends that I don’t feel I need to talk to everyday. I can go, for maybe weeks at a time not talking to them, and they don’t make me feel bad about that. Those are really good friends. They are the friends that I can go, "I’m sorry I haven’t been around…" and they go, "That’s okay, what’s going on now." I’m very lucky to have them.
13. On "Call Me Adam," I have a section called "One Percent Better" where through my own fitness work, I am trying to encourage others to improve their life by 1% everyday. What is something in your life you would like to improve by 1% everyday? It’s been such a journey for me to go through the breast cancer, so I improve my life by 1% everyday by taking care of myself and making sure I am doing the right things to take care of my health.
14. Since it’s the holiday season. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions you kept from your childhood and what new traditions did you create with your family? It's really about being good to one another and not about what you get, but what you can give back. That is what I was taught growing up and that’s what I taught my children and now I get to teach my granddaughter to do something to give back. Yes, it’s at this time of year, but to me, Christmas should be every day, not just one day or time of year where we should be kinder towards one another.
15. Also around this time of year, we remember people who are no longer with us. What do miss most about your mom? I live with "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" being played in every single outlet I go into. I'm grateful for that because I hear her voice and that brings her home to me. There are not a lot of people who can say they’ve had a Christmas classic written for their family, but I can. Wherever I am, I have that. So, I never think to myself "Isn’t this sad?" I think, "How lucky I am to have this song." Her voice is always with me this time of year. It’s nice. It’s lovely.
16. If your mom were alive today, what show would you want to go see with her and what movie would you bring her to? If I could get a ticket, I would love to go see Hamilton. Me and a lot of other people (laughs). But when I come into New York in January, I would love, love, to go see Hamilton.
Like millions of other people, I would take her to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I want to see what that ride is going to be like.
Born to legendary entertainer Judy Garland and producer Sid Luft, Lorna Luft made her performing debut singing on The Judy Garland Show. Since then, she has had dozens of starring and guest-starring roles on film and television, ranging from Grease 2 and Where the Boys Are ’84 to the series Murder, She Wrote and Sean Saves the World. Lorna was co-executive producer of Life with Judy Garland, the five-time Emmy Award-winning miniseries based on her best-selling memoir, Me and My Shadows.
For the past several years, Lorna has been starring in American and British productions of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Her other theatrical credits include her Broadway debut in Promises, Promises; Off-Broadway’s Snoopy and Extremities; the national tour of They’re Playing Our Song; a British tour of Pack of Lies; and Gypsy, Grease, Guys and Dolls, Mame, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, among many others.
Lorna is also a gifted concert and cabaret artist, performing in the world’s most prestigious venues, including The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The London Palladium, and L’Olympia in Paris. Her highly acclaimed multi-media production, Songs My Mother Taught Me—The Judy Garland Songbook, melds one of the world’s most familiar songbooks with personal memories. It won two Ovation Awards, and a CD based on the show was released by First Night Records.