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Interview: Rebecca Luker on Coming to Garner Performing Arts Center

The three-time Tony nominee is coming to town.

Coming to the Garner Performing Arts Center on November 12th as part of their Broadway Voices series is three-time Tony nominated actress Rebecca Luker. I was recently able to get in touch with Luker via email, so today, you shall be reading our conversation.

Rebecca Luker received Tony Award nominations for her work in Show Boat, The Music Man, and Mary Poppins. She also appeared in the Broadway productions of The Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden, The Sound of Music, Nine, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, and Fun Home. Off-Broadway, she starred in Death Takes a Holiday and Indian Blood. Ms. Luker performed to sold out audiences at her critically acclaimed AMERICAN SONG BOOK SERIES solo concerts at the new Jazz at Lincoln Center. She has also appeared with the Alabama, American, Baltimore, Birmingham, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, New Jersey, St. Louis, Chicago, Royal Stockholm, and London Symphonies as well as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Now she brings her extraordinary talents to Garner.

JK: How excited are you to be performing at GPAC?

RL: I'm very excited! I've never been to Garner. My accompanist Joseph Thalken was there last year with Hugh Panaro and they both spoke glowingly of the experience.

JK: What songs can audiences expect to hear from you?

RL: My program is a mixture of songs I've performed on Broadway, recorded or have sung in concert; there's a lot of the American Songbook there with a few surprises thrown in. I'm singing "The Hills Are Alive", "My White Knight", "All I Ask of You" but also "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" by Jule Styne. There are a couple of Jerome Kern gems there too like "Bill" and "Why Was I Born". And of course I can't help doing a couple of Stephen Sondheim songs. There's something for everyone, that's for sure.

JK: As a way for my readers to get to know you, would it be alright if I brought up some of your previous credits one at a time and have you describe your experiences with them?

RL: Shoot!

JK: Your Broadway debut in the original cast of The Phantom of the Opera?

RL: It was a very exciting time in my life. My first Broadway show was this mega hit from London. Everyone was losing their minds over this show. I was in the ensemble for about a year before I moved up to the role of "Christine". In my first performance in the role as the understudy, I got to go on with Michael Crawford himself. He was lovely; a night I won't ever forget. It was a great show to start out in. I learned so much about hard work and patience and that really stayed with me.

JK: You then originated the role of Lily in The Secret Garden.

RL: "Lily" was my first original role and it was a huge blessing in my life. I loved every note and word of this gorgeous show. I used to stand in the wings and sing along with the ensemble! It was just one of those special jobs that truly changed my life and my career.

JK: You recently revisited the role at a benefit concert at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. What was that like?

RL: This was a benefit for the Make-A-Wish foundation and I was so honored to be a part of it. I was also gratified to know that I could still sing the role of "Lily" in the original key! It was a wonderful experience. That score is just brilliant. Daisy Eagan and Lucy Simon were also there and that made it even more special.

JK: How was it working with young Daisy Eagan (who I actually interviewed a few months ago for North Carolina Theatre's production of Wit)?

RL: I knew Daisy was special from the start. She was only 11 when I met her, but she was an old soul and so talented. We got to catch up for a long time after the benefit concert one night. To think that she's now a wife and mother of a young boy just blows my mind!

JK: Playing Magnolia in the 1994 Broadway revival of Show Boat.

RL: This was a show that everyone wanted to do as you can imagine! Hal Prince! A cast of 71. And what a show. I felt so thankful that I was cast as "Magnolia". I've always had a love for Jerome Kern and this production felt so right to me; like I was born to do it.

JK: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it was after Show Boat that you did this musical called Time and Again at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Is that right?

RL: Yes, that's exactly right. I was in San Diego from March until June of 1996. And this was a gorgeous new musical that just never made it in. There are so many of those. But I made lifelong friends, not to mention I met my future husband! So worth it!

JK: I was about to say that it was from that show where you first met your now husband, six-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein.

RL: After Danny and I met in San Diego we were just friends for about a year and a half. We didn't start dating until we met up again in a workshop of Barry Manilow's Harmony, a show that took us back to the West coast. From that time on we pretty much knew we were in it for the long haul. And here we are 20 years later! I'm a lucky woman.

JK: I was lucky enough to have seen in him Fiddler on the Roof last June. You must be one proud wife to watch him work as hard as he does.

RL: Yes, I'm incredibly proud of him and his body of work. He's the hardest working man in show business, I'm not kidding. He's never satisfied with his work; he's always trying to find new things and to make it better. And he does somehow! I strive to be the actor he is. I think Danny's "Tevye" is the best there ever was. Of course I'm not partial at all.

JK: Playing Maria in the Broadway revival of The Sound of Music.

RL: I had always wanted to play "Maria" and this was a dream come true. Something I'll never forget, is running down a ramp in the opening and doing those Julie Andrews twirls as I went into "The Hills Alive...."! What a rush. I was terrified and exhilarated all at once!

JK: Playing Marian the Librarian in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Music Man opposite Craig Bierko.

RL: This was another dream realized. This was a very hard-won role for me so when I was cast in the show I almost couldn't believe it. This easily my favorite Broadway experiences. What a show! And Craig was a dream, and still a friend to this day.

JK: Originating the role of Winifred Banks in the Broadway production of Mary Poppins.

RL: Another original role! I love those. This show had also originated in London so the creative team was way ahead of the game. So we all had the luxury of just tweaking it and making it even better, especially cosmetically. The sets and costumes were upgraded. My one regret is that we never made a cast album. Ah well.

JK: Your most recent credit was filling in for Judy Kuhn (who is currently getting ready to take over for Jessica Hecht opposite your husband in the final weeks of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway) in Fun Home. What was that like?

RL: Fun Home was such a great time! I was there for only 7 weeks, but I'll never forget this show and what it meant to me. I was welcomed with open arms by the cast and crew; a great bunch of folks. Also, I don't get to play contemporary roles very often and that was wonderful. I wore jeans and tennis shoes! Amazing. But the score is just magnificent and the story is moving and jarring and funny; and as an actress there was so much to dig into. This show was a huge gift to me.

JK: So do you have any other projects coming up that you would like to let my readers know about?

RL: I just finished a lab (or workshop) of a show called Little Dancer directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman with a book and score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in late 2014 and we're all hoping that it finally makes it to Broadway one of these days. Fingers crossed.

JK: What advice would you like to give to any aspiring young performers out there?

RL: My advice is to see and read everything you can about your craft. Perform everywhere you can. If you're meant to be in this business and if you're talented, someone will notice. Hard work and patience are essential. It's a tough racket but so worth it in the end.

JK: Rebecca, I thank you very much for devoting your time to this interview, and I hope you have a great time in Garner!

RL: Thanks Jeffrey! My pleasure!

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