(Photo: Laura Marie Duncan)
Rebecca Luker burst onto the Broadway scene two decades ago as the ultimate ingenue, debuting as one of the earliest Christines in The Phantom of the Opera and nabbing the first of three Tony nominations for playing Magnolia in Show Boat. Her all-American blonde looks and glorious soprano voice set her on a particular career path, but Luker has gently pushed back, seeking roles that require an extra layer of grit to balance her natural poise. As she explains in her Role Call, her current stint as Marie and the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella is exactly the mix she now looks for.
Role That Was My First Broadway Creation
“I loved The Secret Garden  from start to finish. Lily was my first original role on Broadway, and beyond that, I think Lucy Simon’s score is so beautiful. I even sang in the wings with the ensemble every night! Lily was a ghost who haunts her husband, Archie, played by Mandy Patinkin; it's the classic story of young Mary Lennox, who comes to live with her Uncle Archie, who is haunted by me. Everyone felt Lily's presence, and in the end, her memory brings the family together. My favorite part was singing ‘Come to My Garden,’ which had these high, soaring phrases. In rehearsal, I couldn’t do it without weeping. It was just a balm for my soul, that show, and it is still one of the high points of my career. I’ll always be proud of the fact that I got to originate it and record it.”
Role That Was a Dream Come True
“Playing Marian in The Music Man [2000; Best Actress Tony nomination] had been a dream of mine since college, and when Susan Stroman’s revival came along, I thought, ‘Please let this happen.’ It’s a jewel of a musical, brilliantly written by Meredith Willson—every note, every word is perfect. Marian is a character I wish I could be more like in real life. She has a strong sense of self and was ahead of her time, particularly in 1912. She remained single until she found the right man, and ironically he was a shyster who came to town. It’s just a beautiful love story—the way [Harold Hill] changes, and the way he changes her—and a brilliant comedy.”
Role That Was the Least Like Me
“I had a fantastic time as Claudia in Nine . I came in as a replacement and did it with the entire original company, including Antonio Banderas, who could not have been lovelier, Chita Rivera and Jane Krakowski. David Leveaux, the director, god bless him, cast me even though Laura Benanti originated the role [of Guido Contini’s film star muse] and we’re very different. I was fortunate that he was able to see Claudia in more than one way, which is rare. I got to wear a white trench coat and a long brown wig, speak Italian and be sexy. It was a blast!
Role That Was the Most Fun
“I’ve never had more fun in a show than playing Marie in Cinderella. Having been an ingenue/leading lady all my life, it’s mind-blowing to get to play this crazy old woman who walks around in rags and then magically transforms into this wise and beautiful fairy godmother. Marie is funny and nutty, with a different voice and walk and sensibility; then I get to fly [above the stage] and sing ‘Impossible’ and ‘There’s Music in You.‘ It’s my first character role and now I’m dying to do it again. The entire experience has been like a little gift.”
Role That Was the Most Passionate
“Passion [2002, Kennedy Center, as Clara] has what I believe is Sondheim’s most beautiful score, and that’s saying a lot. When I saw the show in the 1990s, I didn’t quite take it in, but when I was asked to do it, I let the music wash over me. It’s sumptuous, it’s moving, it’s sexy, and having just sung it again on a new recording, I love it even more. Clara could come off as completely shallow, but I tried to show her humanity. I really believe she’s a good-hearted person who just happened to marry the wrong man—and she has to stay married in order to see her child. She and this young soldier, Giorgio, grow to love each other, but she has to face the realities of the century she’s living in. It was a thrill to work with Sondheim on the production and again on the album. He doesn’t mind changing a word, a note or a key; he’s constantly trying to find more in what he wrote, and that is amazing to me.”
Role That Was the Biggest Departure
“I don’t get to do a lot of plays, and I was so honored when A.R. Gurney asked me to play Jane, the mother in Indian Blood . The play is the story of a young boy, modeled after Pete Gurney himself, growing up in Buffalo in the 1940s, when the world is changing. My character was based on Pete’s own mother, and I had a lot of fun playing a WASP, which is so not me; I’m southern. When I look at pictures of me in Jane’s dark wig, it’s startling how much I look just like my own mother. I had such a good time acting with John McMartin, and I learned so much from Mark Lamos, who directed. I would love to do more plays.”