"This is a New Year's dream come true," says Luft, who will be joined onstage by her husband of almost 19 years (and musical director) Colin Freeman. "I had almost given up hope. The economy has tanked, everything has gotten so expensive, and we have a big show. But I see this show as an opportunity to have an audience enjoy something that's very personal and special to me. With the video clips and virtual duets, the program is rich with memories."
Indeed, the concert will have Luft telling audiences what growing up was like with Garland, her father Sid Luft, brother Joey, and her half-sister Liza Minnelli. "It's interwoven with the video, and through the magic of modern technology, I even sing duets with mama."
The show was crafted by variety show specialists Ken and Mitzi Welch. "The way they wrote it, once it starts, the train leaves the station, steams along, and never slows down," she says. "So, you don't have time to think of a favorite song. But some nights, of course, a song will hit you a different way."
The songs that Luft will perform include such Garland standards as "The Man That Got Away," "Chicago," "I Feel a Song Coming On," "Rockabye Your Baby (With a Dixie Melody)," Come Rain or Come Shine," "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" and "Hello, Bluebird." In the second half, Luft does a 25-song medley that follows her mother's career from The Wizard of Oz to her landmark concert at Carnegie Hall. Freeman did the orchestrations and arrangements. "They're as close to the originals when possible," says Luft. "On some of the songs, that wasn't possible, so I had to make do. But I don't think anyone, other than the most devoted fan, can hear any difference."
Luft stayed away from performing her mother's songs for a long time. "I never wanted to do this, for all the obvious reasons. It was too painful. You want to put your own two feet on the ground. My friends said, 'Sing your mother's songs.' It was scary. I ran the other way because I was desperately trying to take my own footsteps," she says." I didn't have the strength and the ability to give this what it deserved. I had to be strong and emotionally ready, and I wasn't. Fortunately, when I got in my 40s, I got to the point where I said 'I can do this. I can look at these photographs, look at this movie, listen to this album and not be sad. I can understand this woman who was my mother and my relationship with her.' It was a process I had to go through. It's been so fulfilling that I wish I'd done it earlier."
Still, one song you won't hear her sing is "Over the Rainbow"; instead, it shows up in the show on video and sung by Garland herself. "I don't do it and never will," she says. "You can't improve upon perfection. It's such a perfect rendition, and it's too strongly identified with mama."
Luft says audience members often tell her she sounds like her mother, but she doesn't agree. "I don't sound like her at all, and don't try to emulate her. That would be stupid. People hear what they wish to hear. It's normal. I have a big voice. She was my mother."
She also points out that many Garland fans tell her how much they miss her mother. And while she doesn't doubt them, she knows their feelings are not the same as hers. "Even after all this time, they say how much they loved Judy Garland," she notes. "But I just miss my mother in a different way, so it's not always easy to relate to that."