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BWW Review: LORNA LUFT: GRATEFUL Has Them Dancing in the Aisles at 54 Below

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Lorna Luft Returns to 54 Below October 21-23

BWW Review: LORNA LUFT: GRATEFUL Has Them Dancing in the Aisles at 54 Below
Photo by Helane Blumfield

Lorna Luft is a consummate entertainer. That's no surprise of course. She was born to entertain. Her mother, Judy Garland, was arguably the greatest entertainer of the 20th century. And Lorna has been entertaining professionally herself since she was 14 years old. Her high-profile turns in the film Grease 2 and as Miss Adelaide in the national tour of Guys & Dolls are only two of her many film, television, and stage credits. She has also been a very in-demand nightclub performer for decades. Over the years she has known and worked with some of the very best.

That is the focus of her new show Lorna Luft: GRATEFUL, which had its premiere last night at 54 Below. This is her seventh appearance on the 54 Below stage, and she has the fans to prove it. Last night they were literally dancing in the aisles. And it's no wonder. Ms. Luft has a very charismatic and welcoming stage presence that makes her seem like an old friend even on first meeting. She presented a show filled with classic songwriters from The Great American Songbook. The twist being she knew them all. They were all members of her family, both logical and biological.

She opened with a lush and wonderful arrangement of "I Can See Clearly Now" which set the stage for an evening of gratitude. She followed this with Anthony Newley's great "On a Wonderful Day Like Today," during which she was visibly moved by being in front of a live audience again after 19 months of, as she put it, "singing to hairbrushes" in her house. To the strains of "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" she introduced the first songwriter she is grateful for. Johnny Mercer was an intimate family friend. He, in fact, wrote a song for Judy Garland dedicated to Lorna. She honored him with a medley of some of his many hits including "Moon River," "Something's Gotta Give," "Jeepers, Creepers," "Blues in the Night," Come Rain or Come Shine," "Goody, Goody," and "You're Just Too Marvelous."

BWW Review: LORNA LUFT: GRATEFUL Has Them Dancing in the Aisles at 54 Below
Photo by Helane Blumfield

She transitioned to a section devoted to her friend Jerry Herman with his tune "It's Today" from Mame. She worked with Herman many times. In fact, he called her almost any time he was doing a concert of his works somewhere. She saluted him with two songs from Mack & Mabel that she sang at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, "Wherever He Ain't' and "Time Heals Everything."

Next, she talked about a songwriter who was an actual member of her family, Peter Allen. She told stories about him taking an interest in her as a teenager with dreams of having her name in lights. She described him as the big brother she never had. She paid honor to him with several of his great songs including "Everything Old Is New Again," When I Get My Name in Lights," "I Could Marry the Rain," and his biggest hit of all, "Don't Cry Out Loud."

The songwriters were not the only family affair onstage last night. Lorna Luft was backed up by a marvelous band of old friends including Josh Priest on drums, Peter Calo on guitar, and, Jim Donica on bass. Vocals were provided by old friend and vocal coach David Sabella. And in her cabaret debut, Justice! Somerville-Adair did awesome work. The band was under the wonderful direction of Colin Freeman, who is not only a fantastic musician, he is also Ms. Luft's husband.

The final section of the evening was devoted to Ellie Greenwich, who became friends with Luft after a chance meeting on a recording session. Lorna Luft got the band involved in this section. Peter Calo opened by singing Greenwich's "I Hear Music." Luft gave us "Be My Baby." She welcomed Justice! Somerville-Adair, who did a marvelous job on "Then He Kissed Me." David Sabella took center stage for a touching version of "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry." The last two numbers were an all-out dance party as Luft invited us to move through "Chapel of Love" and "Da Doo Ron Ron." At the end of the concert, Ms. Luft donned a pink leather jacket, not unlike her Pink Ladies outfit in Grease 2. But this was a special coat that was emblazoned with the slogan "Never Give Up." She wore it to celebrate her triumph over Stage 2 breast cancer.

Indeed, Lorna Luft has much to be grateful for. As does her audience. She is a performer who leaves it all on the stage. Her show was amazing fun. There were a few songs that probably could have benefited from being in different keys, but that is not an important thing. Lorna Luft is a great entertainer who left everyone dancing into the night. For that, we too are grateful.

BWW Review: LORNA LUFT: GRATEFUL Has Them Dancing in the Aisles at 54 Below
Photo by Helane Blumfield

Lorna Luft: GRATEFUL performs again at 54 Below tonight and tomorrow, October 22 & 23. For tickets and information, visit 54 below.com. To learn more about Lorna Luft, follow her @lorna_luft on Twitter or @lornaluftofficial on Instagram. Her music is available on Spotify and all streaming platforms


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