Talking with Lorna Luft is like having a conversation with an old friend, even if you’ve never met her. She invites one instantly into her world, and quickly reveals the warm, gracious, open, devilishly funny, and indomitable personality that has kept her going through a lifetime in show biz, and more than six years living with breast cancer.
“It’s not a diagnoses one wants to get; it’s terrifying. But you make up your mind to face it and fight it. As my brilliant doctor said [David Agus, currently at Cedars Sinai, Los Angeles]: ‘We’re going to fix this, but I need you to come along with me.’”
And although she admits she’s “terrified of doctors,” she did go along with him, putting her trust in both Dr. Agus and Dr. Philomena McAndrew (known for being the inspiration behind Samantha’s oncologist in the HBO Series “Sex and The City.”) As Dr. McAndrew told her: “There is nothing too stupid to ask; I’ll ask you singing questions which you might think are dumb.” And for six years she has gone along with her doctors on an up and down road of living with the disease; “they took away one of the girls,” as she matter-of-factly put it, as well as having had to endure brain surgery to remove a tumor this past spring. “It’s been rough, but it becomes part of your life. Attitude, and living life in the moment, is 90% of the game.”
Talking with Ms. Luft, it becomes quite apparent how important living life in the moment has become for her, and one is drawn into the bubbly personality that keeps her alive and thriving. “Every day is a gift. I was with my granddaughter in Palm Springs recently, and we sat outside one evening, just looking at the stars.” It was a perfect moment for her, and it’s moments like these that give her the energy for the more tumultuous events of her life, like launching her latest book (written in partnership with Jeffrey Vance) “A Star Is Born: Judy Garland and The Movie That Got Away” just as the fifth remake, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, was released. “I started that book years ago, when Clint Eastwood announced he was going to remake it with Beyoncé. I had all these stories, all these photographs from my mother’s film (for the one of you who might not know, Luft is Garland’s daughter with her third husband, Sid Luft), and I thought ‘I should really share these.” Eastwood’s movie eventually got shelved, but Luft never gave up on the book. “The story, why it has been remade so many times, why audiences continue to respond to it – I mean, 43 million? Not Bad! [referring to the current film’s opening weekend box-office] – it’s not just the Hollywood/Showbiz angle; it’s the human emotions: love, loss, talent, addiction, triumph, tragedy, and triumph again. We can all relate to those. It’s about not stopping.” And that’s what fueled her to finish the book. “I thought: I’m not going to stop. And there I was, laying in my hospital bed last June having my head cut open, and talking about the cover art.”
At the same time, she’s been preparing to come home to the world of NYC Cabaret; her show To L and Back premieres at Feinstein’s 54 Below next Tuesday, for three nights: October 23, 24, & 25. “I’m doing this show as a tribute to all of the many, many people who have been there for me over the last six years; I’m so grateful for all of the love and support I’ve gotten, from friends and strangers alike, from other women who are going through what I’m going through, and this show is my way of thanking them, of “paying it forward.”
She’s put together quite a stellar group of onstage support as well; sharing the evening with her will be the powerhouse Hayley Swindal, the hilarious Ruth Williamson, the vocally prolific Ernie Sabella, and the incredibly versatile David Sabella, who has also worked as Luft’s vocal coach. “I love doing cabaret. In a show, you’re playing a character, you’re hidden behind lines, and songs, and makeup, and costumes… In cabaret, it’s just you and the audience. You have to be incredibly honest, it’s like being in your living room: you can’t get away with any bullshit.” She particularly loves performing at 54 Below. “Look, I’ve played some pretty posh places, but that space! It was put together by people who love theater and what they’re doing. As Colin, my husband, said: ‘Honey, we’re going home.’ “
Asked what to expect with this show, her response was succinct: “People who come are gonna get an emotional evening. We’re sharing the story of millions of women around the world, those who are living, those we have lost, and we’re letting people know how much their support has meant to us. … It’s about joy.”
And joy is precisely what Luft radiates: a joy for her art, a joy for her family and friends, and the sheer joy of just being alive and living every moment to its fullest. It’s a joy she shares unstintingly, and it’s infectious, in the best sense of the word.
Reservations are a must for Lorna’s next appearance at Feinstein’s 54 Below October 23-25, 7PM