Broadway Star Rebecca Luker Dies At 59

Dec 26, 2020
Originally published on December 27, 2020 11:55 pm

Broadway star Rebecca Luker has died of complications from ALS. She and her husband also had COVID-19 earlier this year.

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Broadway star Rebecca Luker died this week at a Manhattan hospital from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. She was 59. Luker was best known for playing several roles in Broadway musicals, from "The Phantom Of The Opera" to "The Music Man." Jeff Lunden has this appreciation.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: For over 30 years, Rebecca Luker graced Broadway stages.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME TO MY GARDEN / LIFT ME UP")

REBECCA LUKER: (As Lily, singing) Come to my garden.

BEN BRANTLEY: Rebecca Luker had a glow in her presence and in her voice that I associate with the golden age of musical theater.

LUNDEN: Ben Brantley, former drama critic of The New York Times, was a big fan.

BRANTLEY: It wasn't that she was a throwback, exactly. There is nothing quaint about her. But she had that kind of luminous soprano that you associate from another time.

LUNDEN: The Alabama-born soprano played a variety of ingenue roles in both new shows and revivals, Magnolia in "Show Boat"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKE BELIEVE")

LUKER: (As Magnolia, singing) We could make believe.

LUNDEN: ...Maria in "The Sound Of Music."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

LUKER: (As Maria, singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music.

LUNDEN: And she told Broadway.com her very favorite, Marian, the librarian in "The Music Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUKER: That show has been very special in my life since college. I was 19. It was just a wonderful experience, you know, all the way around.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOODNIGHT, MY SOMEONE")

LUKER: (As Marian, singing) Goodnight, my someone. Goodnight, my love.

LUNDEN: As she got older, Luker gracefully transitioned into roles like the mother, Mrs. Banks, in "Mary Poppins" and performed in cabaret and concerts, she told WHYY's Fresh Air in 2005.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LUKER: My voice has just gotten richer, I think, over the years - deeper and richer and more versatile, I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISN'T THIS BETTER?")

LUKER: (Singing) I loved the man. Truly, I did.

LUNDEN: In February of 2020, she announced her ALS diagnosis, and a month later, both she and her husband, actor Danny Burstein, came down with COVID-19. Though Luker was wheelchair-bound and had trouble breathing, she performed in an online fundraiser for ALS research in June.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUKER: (Singing) There is a certain someone, and I'm anxious he should hear me.

LUNDEN: She still had that luminous, beautiful voice.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE")

LUKER: (As Adriana, singing) Falling in love with love is falling for make-believe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.