Songs my mother taught me

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LORNA Luft has worked with some pretty big leading ladies. She's sung with Debbie Harry on a Blondie album and starred in camp classic Grease 2 with Michelle Pfeiffer.

Then, of course, there were the numerous occasions that she performed alongside Liza Minnelli and the legendary Judy Garland – or as Luft calls them, her sister and mom.

But on this particular occasion, sitting in her favourite George Street hang-out, The Dome, Luft's conversation is about another leading lady entirely.

"Did you know she was six feet tall?" she asks, talking about Mary Queen of Scots, supposing that the former Queen must have had to stoop to get around her regal lodgings. "I've been there, it was tiny." It's all down to a book Luft has been reading, it turns out, on our fair history.

One chapter, which revealed that the former monarch had numerous boats filled with garments, prompted her to call her Scottish husband in LA to tell him never to complain about her packing again.

It's all part of a love affair with the Capital that has taken hold since stealing the show in White Christmas The Musical at the Playhouse last year.

"I could very, very seriously live up here," she admits. "I love the people, which is always the first plus for a city. I like the lifestyle; I like the history and the fact that it's got a feel to it of a community rather than a big, big city. It has more caring than a bigger city.

"I love cities that you can sort of get lost in and every corner you turn has a bit of history and that's what this has. I find that the people couldn't be more accomm-odating, they couldn't be nicer. The audiences have been phenomenal. I told my husband, I said 'I could seriously live up here'."

Fitting, then, that this particular love affair will come full circle when Luft returns to Edinburgh to perform her new show on Thursday.

Songs My Mother Taught Me is not only a celebration of the legend and music of her mother, but also Luft's ability to finally deal with the legacy Garland left behind.

"I never sang any of her songs before," she explains. "I couldn't.

"When you have a legacy like this and the person whose legacy you are in the shadow of is not here to tell you how to cope with all of this, it takes us all a really long time because it's painful for us because they're not around anymore.

"So we have a lot of people who want us to do things because it's their legend, it's their fans."

She pauses before making what is quite a simple point. "It's our parents. Sometimes it just is too painful to embrace, it takes us time.

"People don't understand that that's our 'normal' and say to me, 'How fantastic it must have been' and they don't understand that I have nothing to compare it to. So for you it may be fantastic, for me it was normal."

Luft isn't the only diva who has been putting on a tribute to her mother however.

"Rufus (Wainwright] has been very kind to me and very nice," she says when asked about Wainwright's critically-acclaimed recent restaging of Garland's famous Carnegie Hall performance, on which she guest-starred.

"It was, I think, overwhelming for him. I know it was overwhelming for him vocally, that's not his music. But he was coming from the right place in his heart, of saying thank you.

"We had long talks about it, before we did Carnegie Hall. He told me that after 9/11 that album (Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall] gave him hope, which is extraordinary. And that's what he wanted to do, to just say thank you. It was an event."

Speaking of events, it can't go unmentioned that Grease 2 finally getting a DVD release was a bit of an event for some people. Luft laughs when the 1982 sequel is brought up, but is more than happy to talk about it.

"We weren't out to make, you know, Gone With The Wind. Who knew it was going to be a camp classic and all of that?

"It was a fun movie. It was a little bit tough when my children were smaller and I'd pick them up at school, they'd say to me, 'Mom just get in the car, because people think you're in Grease 2'.

"My children didn't want to stand out or be different," she adds.

Was this the same when she was growing up?

"When I was a child I didn't like standing out. And to this day, I can get up and perform at the Hollywood Bowl for 18,000 people, but it would be very hard for me to get up in my living room in front of people I know," she says.

"I don't like that. I'm out of the norm. My mother could do that – she'd always be singing at the house or whatever. And my sister will do that, but I don't like it."

She spots my surprised look. "I know it's very odd. It's not that I don't like attention, I try not to draw it."

But Luft doesn't think it ironic that despite not wanting to stand out, she followed her mother into the profession.

"Well it's a family business," she counters. "You come from a family of doctors you're gonna be a doctor, or you're gonna at least try it. It's not that unusual."

Despite reservations from her mother not dissuading her, Luft insists that her children are not at all interested in the profession.

"You don't want your child to go through any hardship. I'm never going to complain, but the one thing about showbusiness is it's incredibly insecure.

"You never know when you're working, you never know if you've got a job or if you pay your rent or what you can be doing. So that's the one part about show-business which is the down side.

"I know so many incredibly talented actors, singers whatever – they can't get arrested."

Actually these days that's exactly what many famous people seem to be resorting to.

"Oh it's very easy for them to get arrested, trust me my neighbour is Britney Spears, I know," she sighs. "I wish to Christ she'd move because I don't like living with 50 paparazzi on my street 24/7.

"I wish she would move and I wish she would go and get some help and take responsibility for her behaviour. To me she's a little bit boring."

Another plus point for moving duly noted, she considers again for a moment that Scotland could become a second home to her and says, "I've gotta tell ya, I'm really lucky to be able to come over here, have a career and be accepted. And I love the history over here, we have no history in LA.

"The oldest thing we've got is Zsa Zsa Gabor."

&#149 Songs My Mother Taught Me, Queens Hall, Thursday, 7.30pm, 18-21.50, 0131-777 1006

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