CABARET REVIEW : Luft Prevails at the Cinegrill

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Lorna Luft can sing. No doubt about it. Whatever magic Judy Garland had in such abundance, she managed to pass healthy portions to both her daughters.

Like her sister, Liza Minelli, Luft not only has inherited the Garland trademark husky voice and wide-eyed gamin’s look, but also the innate sense of drama--the ability to reach past the outer shell into the very heart and soul of a song.

Luft opened her first Los Angeles booking in a decade Wednesday night at the Hollywood Roosevelt Cinegrill, in front of a celebrity-studded audience. Appropriately, her program celebrated the music of Hollywood with a colorful array of songs that were well-chosen, if not particularly surprising.

Luft did almost everything well. She proved--with “The Greatest Love of All”--that she can belt with the best. A medley of songs associated with Fred Astaire displayed phrasing that was beguilingly rhythmic without distorting or intruding on the meaning.


Two Fred Ebb special arrangements--”The Cartoon Medley” and “Not Even Nominated”--were the high points of her set. The former concentrated on the magnificent songs that emerged from the golden Disney years. Luft found the right touch for most of the songs, with the exception of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which was lost in a dark cloud of heavy rhythm.

The latter medley included an astonishing list of songs that, as the title explained, were not even nominated for Academy Awards.

Luft’s ballad work, especially on the Garland-identified “You Made Me Love You,” was stunning.

But she was badly handicapped on many of the songs by arrangements that were far below the level of her performance. Almost without exception, the charts resorted to the most hackneyed devices for backing singers--changing keys for the final chorus, shifting tempos for reasons that had nothing to do with the material, relying too often on herky-jerky rhythmic phrases.

To her credit, Luft not only survived--she prevailed. It was a measure of both her skills and her professionalism that she managed to build her performance to a rousing climax with accompaniment that was more of a hazard than an enhancement. But she deserved much better. Luft continues at the Cinegrill through Saturday and returns next week on Wednesday through Saturday.