Songs My Mother Taught Me, Savoy Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

"Let's face it - a legend is a tough act to follow," declares Lorna Luft in this musical tribute to her mother, Judy Garland.

"Let's face it - a legend is a tough act to follow," declares Lorna Luft in this musical tribute to her mother, Judy Garland. What the show proves, however, is a legend is an impossible act to follow. It also becomes evident that the object of the celebration is as much Luft's achievement in conquering her fears about performing Garland's material. On those grounds, at any rate, this is an almost scary success story. She belts out the Songs My Mother Taught Me with a sense of total entitlement, if with precious little of the spine-tingling magic.

There's a bizarre moment early on when Luft pushes a trolley across the stage bearing the brace of Emmys garnered by Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, the television series based on her memoirs. The excuse for this cringing visual gag is she promised the producers she wouldn't mention the awards so it wouldn't sound like bragging. The book and its filming were cathartic, we're given to understand. "This miraculous thing happened. The fear went away". She could then respond to the exhortations of friends such as Barry Manilow that she should "pick up the torch" and maintain her "mother's heavenly legacy".

But what does she suppose Barbra Streisand, to whom Garland very publicly passed that torch on their historic TV encounter in 1963, has been up to all these years? And isn't there a performer (and half-sister) called Liza Minnelli?

To establish her personal line of succession, Luft performs duets with Garland seen giving glorious vent to "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Through The Years". This out-of-time double act should give the sense of a powerful relationship, undefeated by death. But the effect is more eerie than moving. The film of Garland has been rigged, so it looks as if she is listening in loving approval to Luft's interventions. And the daughter's voice - more than passable in armour-plated hollering mode, but with no capacity for softness or finesse - does not exactly take a respectful back seat.

Putting you in mind at times of a failed séance, the evening proceeds as a mix of Judy Garland Songbook (a breakneck tour of all the classics, driven by a fine, punchy band), a name-dropping riffle through the family album (Lorna asked "Uncle" Frank Sinatra if he knew what he meant to the universe and, shucks, he thought he was just a guy who sang songs - "Some guy, some songs!"), awful anecdotes, and musings on the meaning of life arising out of her life with Judy ("Every family has its highs and its lows").

Garland had her share of tragedy but, Luft declares, she was not tragic. The memory of her mother's sense of humour is not best served, however, by the two practical jokes the performer recounts here, one of which is actually chilling. "Wait - it gets better," she tells us in the middle of some flaccid anecdote. Not in this show, it doesn't.

To 28 August (0870 164 8787)

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