Photo Credit:  D. Sabella

It only took six words to get the party started:

“Now please welcome home Lorna Luft!”

And before Luft even appeared, the place went nuts. Racing onto the stage like a fireball, she belted I’ll Be Here Tomorrow, (Jerry Herman, The Grand Tour, 1979) and followed it up immediately by ruminating plaintively: “I could while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain, and my head I’d be scratching, while my thoughts were busy hatching, if I only had a…” Then she stopped, looked at the audience and deadpanned “You all know the rest of this song, and I’m fine!”
(Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg, Film: The Wizard of Oz, 1939)

And with that hilariously tongue-in-cheek reference to her recent surgery to remove a brain tumor, Luft proved she’s more than fine; her recent show Feinstein’s 54 Below, To L And Back, was a no-holds barred, balls-to-the-wall celebration of life; after swinging through Accentuate The Positive (Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer, Film: Here Come The Waves, 1944), she quipped “I’m so thrilled to be here. I’m so thrilled to be anywhere!”

Living with breast cancer for the last 7 years in addition to having the aforementioned brain tumor removed (“I’ve had some surgeries… on a scale of 1  to Caitlyn Jenner, I’m an 11”) has given the performer an even greater zest for living in the moment, a zest she willingly shares with anyone and everyone, onstage and off. Having invited the performers Hayley Swindal, Ruth Williamson, and the brothers Sabella (Ernie and David*) to share the show with her, she was also a very gracious hostess, ceding the spotlight to each of them in turn; whether it was Williamson defiantly swirling through I Don’t Want To Know (Jerry Herman, Dear World, 1969), Swindal blowing the roof off the joint with an exciting Let Yourself Go (Irving Berlin, Film: Follow The Fleet, 1936), David Sabella’s smooth jazz voice wrapping itself around This Is All I Ask (Gordon Jenkins, 1958), or, especially, Ernie Sabella, joined by his brother David, joyously singing Hakuna Matata (Elton John & Tim Rice, Film: The Lion King, 1994) with as much glee as he did in the film, Luft watched her guests with genuine love and affection for their talent and accomplishments, her eyes gleaming and her clasped hands often held to her heart.

Late in the evening, though, she firmly took the show back into her own hands while discussing her new book A Star Is Born: Judy Garland and The Film That Got Away. After a charming anecdote about how Garland first heard what would become one of her signature songs, The Man That Got Away, (It was while playing a round of golf with the composer, Harold Arlen), Luft then sang the song. And in three breathtaking minutes, film musical history and family legacy exploded into an emotional, electric, and exhilarating performance that instantly shot both Luft and the show into legendary status; she gave a performance of the song that no one in the room will ever, ever forget, and everyone in the room will talk about for years to come; it was a stunningly meta moment of intense, theatrical bliss, and the ovation that followed seemed to go on forever as we all collectively lost our minds from the excitement of being lucky enough to experience it happening live.

The superb musical direction was by Luft’s husband, Colin Freeman, with Jim Donica on Bass and Jordan Priest on Drums.

One hopes Luft will do the show again, and soon. She throws one helluva party; there is no choice but to surrender to her life force, and happily, willingly go along for the ride. Come home again, and again, and again, Lorna. Please.

*Full disclosure: David Sabella is the Editor-In-Chief of Cabarethotspot.com, as well as being a personal friend of mine. I loved his performance anyway. 😉