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Singers with famous parents say they have more to prove

Beyond the obvious, there’s something the singers billed as “The Next Generation” have in common: Cutting some slack for other next-generation singers.

“I always err on the side of the child,” Lorna Luft says.

“Lisa Marie (Presley) came out with a record and I said, ‘Leave her alone.’ I get it. I know what it’s like,” says the daughter of Judy Garland.

And Steve March-Torme understands how people view him as the son of Mel Torme. If the tables were turned and he went to see Ben Taylor (son of James Taylor and Carly Simon), he would be thinking, “Let’s see if he has his old man’s writing chops. Let’s see how he phrases.”

“Is it unfair? I don’t know. It’s human nature,” he says.

Luft and March-Torme don’t know each other well, but they have a mutual friend in Ricci Martin, the youngest son of Dean Martin, whom Luft grew up with in California.

The three will be teamed with Lena Prima, who grew up in Las Vegas, for the Saturday show at the M Resort. Anthony Lewis, son of Jerry, completes the theme as master of ceremonies.

None is a stranger to Las Vegas stages. And all four have done albums and/or themed cabaret shows paying tribute to their famous parents, while dealing with both the benefits and challenges of the family ties.

March-Torme says the connection creates curiosity, but also an attitude of, “Let’s see if this is any good.”

“Automatically I have to be well prepared and very good at what I do,” he says. “It’s my job to make the audience comfortable so that they don’t feel like, ‘Gee I wonder if this was a mistake. I came because I was curious about the last name.’

“To me it’s pretty cool because it keeps me on my toes,” he adds. “It makes me overrehearse and overprepare so that I’m very comfortable on stage.”

Luft agrees. “The door was opened (by the family connection), but then a lot more was expected. But then there was a person sitting next to me who couldn’t get in the door.

“Show business, it’s a business where it happens to just be, yes talent, but being in the right place at the right time.” When someone without a famous parent does get in the door, “it’s a clean slate, whereas I come in with a bit of a backpack.”

If that’s a common denominator, the four otherwise have different performing relationships with their famous parents.

Garland died when Luft was 16, but for a few years Luft and sister Liza Minnelli were often pulled on stage to join the act. “It wasn’t like a one-time thing,” Luft says of a summer tour and television appearances.

Prima was only 12 when Louis Prima, the New Orleans bandleader reinvented as a Las Vegas lounge legend, fell into the coma that took his life three years later, in 1978.

March-Torme’s parents divorced when he was 2, and he was raised by another show-business father, comedian Hal March. After March died in 1970, March-Torme reunited with his biological father and they ended up singing together a few times before Torme’s death in 1999.

“I would say we did a half-dozen performances on stage. … They were always fun,” March-Torme says. “It was always fun to trade scat passages, and if he didn’t think I was good enough to do it, he wouldn’t have done it. He would have been brutally honest and said, ‘You know what, I still think you need some seasoning,’ or whatever word he would use.”

And Ricci Martin? “Here we go,” Luft says with a laugh, as she begins to piece together the intertwined family connections. “My sister was best friends with Gail Martin. And Gail and Liza literally were best friends growing up. I’m friends with Deana Martin,” who recently sang at South Point.

“I know Ricci from just hanging out and seeing him. He was sort of the crazy younger brother.”

All this reinforces “That was our normal. We didn’t know anything different,” Luft says. “Basically we were a family. We all had families, it’s just that they happened to be incredibly famous. But to us, they were just our family members.”

The most common question she fields is, “What was it like?”

She always says, “I don’t know, I had nothing to compare it to.”

The normality of it leads Luft back to another common bond all four singers are likely to share if they get time to talk it over on Saturday.

“It’s not that odd. If you come from a family of lawyers, somebody’s going to be a lawyer,” Luft says.

“It’s not that strange what we decided to do. We just went into the family business.”

March-Torme agrees.

“I like doing what I do and I’ve been doing it since I was 13. And I think I’m real good at it. And between you, me and the woodwork, I can’t do anything else.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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