She’s Judy Garland’s daughter. Liza Minnelli’s half sister. Frank Sinatra was her godfather. But despite her starpower, Lorna Luft just wants to be another part of the “Holiday Inn” cast.
The resemblance is slight, until Lorna Luft starts singing.
Then you sit up a little straighter, realizing that you are in the genetic company of the late, great Judy Garland.
Luft, in Seattle to perform in the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of “Holiday Inn,” is blessed with her mother’s sharp enunciation and finishes each phrase with the same, confident warble that puts you right back on Auntie Em’s farm.
It’s almost as if Garland is in the room.
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As if? Luft asked during a recent break in rehearsals from the show, which opens Nov. 24.
“Oh,” she said, shaking her head. “The signs happen so much, it has become a part of my everyday life.”
Just the other day, she passed through the sliding doors of Walgreens just as her mother’s voice came over the PA, singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
“There she was,” Luft said of her mother, who died in 1969, when Luft was 16.
“I don’t take my family legacy for granted. It’s never a burden. It is a responsibility and something that I take very seriously. Everybody knows Dorothy.”
It’s a bit of a Groundhog Christmas for Luft. At this time last year, she was appearing in “White Christmas,” another Irving Berlin show in which she spent most of her time onstage in overalls and a plaid shirt, playing the caretaker desperate to save the place from ruin.
In “Holiday Inn,” on which “White Christmas” was loosely based, Luft is playing pretty much the same character, this time named Louise.
“Fix it and take care of people,” Luft, 65, said of her character. “It’s the only thing she knows how to do.”
You could say the same for Luft. She has never known anything but singing and performing. She started as early as 1963, when she appeared on her mother’s Christmas special along with her brother Joey and half-sister, Liza Minnelli.
(Luft’s father is Sidney Luft, Garland’s third husband. Minnelli’s father is the late director Vincente Minnelli. And Luft’s godfather? Frank Sinatra.)
“People don’t understand,” Luft said. “They think my life has been strange, but to me, it was my normal. I don’t know anything else but this business. Being born into it, growing up in it.
“If you come from a family of doctors, you’re probably going to be a doctor,” she said. “I went into the family business.”
She talks to Minnelli once a week on the phone. (“She’s not working on anything, and doing really well.”)
The cast is aware of Luft’s pedigree, and when she first arrived in Seattle, there was a bit of a fuss. But Luft was quick to tamp that down.
She recalled a line by the late, great theater veteran Elaine Stritch: “Always leave your dressing-room door open. It gets lonely sometimes.”
It’s never that way outside the theater, though. Luft’s son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live in Renton, so she will be with them through the holidays and the run of the show.
“You couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present,” she said. (She also has a daughter who lives in Phoenix.)
She visits Pike Place Market several times a week and is “addicted” to Ellenos Greek yogurt.
When the show closes, Luft and her husband, musical director Colin Freeman, will head home to Palm Springs, California, where they raise guide dogs for the blind.
Four years ago, Luft was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer.
“You’re never cancer-free,” she said when I asked if she was clear. “You’re always on the edge of your seat. People call it their ‘journey,’ but my journey is going to Barney’s for shoes and handbags. That’s my journey.”
Cracks aside, the experience changed her.
“It really put things in perspective about what’s important,” Luft said. “Let things go, and only have who you want in your life, in your life.”
And it would do us all well to go see her show.
“We’re living in a carnival ride right now,” she said. “The word is this roller coaster. And to be able to bring joy to people with Irving Berlin and his music is so vital right now.”