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Rebecca Luker, a Broadway Star for Three Decades, Dies at 59

Rebecca Luker, a Broadway Star for Three Decades, Dies at 59
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Rebecca Luker, a Broadway Star for Three Decades, Dies at 59

Rebecca Luker, a Broadway Star for Three A long time, Dies at 59

Rebecca Luker, the actress and singer who in a lauded three-decade profession on the New York stage embodied the essence of the Broadway musical ingénue in hit revivals of “Present Boat,” “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man,” died on Wednesday in a hospital in Manhattan. She was 59.

The loss of life was confirmed by Sarah Fargo, her agent. Ms. Luker introduced in February that she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, generally referred to as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s illness.

Ms. Luker’s Broadway profession, fueled by her crystal-clear operatic soprano, introduced her three Tony Award nominations. The primary was for “Present Boat” (1994), through which she performed Magnolia, the captain’s dewy-fresh teenage daughter, whose life is ruined by marriage to a riverboat gambler. The second was for “The Music Man” (2000), through which she was Marian, the prim River Metropolis librarian who enchants a touring flimflam man who thinks — mistakenly — that he’s simply passing by way of city.

In between, Ms. Luker delighted critics by taking part in in opposition to sort in a 1997 Encores! manufacturing of “The Boys From Syracuse.” As Adriana, the uncared for spouse who will get her groove again (together with her husband’s long-lost twin brother), she wore slinky Thirties robes and exuded what Ben Brantley, in his overview for Gadget Clock, known as “a disarmingly confectionary sexiness.”

Taking part in Adriana was enjoyable, Ms. Luker admitted. “For the primary time in my life, I obtained to do a bit,” she informed The Occasions in 1998. “Studying to show to the viewers, studying to carry for laughs — I ate it up with a spoon.”

However by the top of that yr, she was deep into ingénue territory once more, taking part in Maria, the undisciplined novice nun turned live-in governess of seven, in “The Sound of Music.”

When she earned her third Tony nomination, this one for greatest featured actress in a musical, it was for enjoying Winifred Banks, a married Englishwoman with two kids and a gifted nanny, in “Mary Poppins” (2006).

For all her success in musicals, Ms. Luker didn’t establish as a show-tunes sort. “I’m so not a musical theater individual,” she informed Playbill in 2003. “I like rock music and jazz. I like the ’70s stuff I grew up with.”

Rebecca Joan Luker was born on April 17, 1961, in Birmingham, Ala., and grew up in Helena, a small city close by. She was one in all 4 kids of Norse Doak Luker Jr., a building employee, and Martha (Baggett) Luker, the native highschool’s treasurer. Rebecca sang in her church choir (First Baptist of Alabaster) and was a member of the Thompson Excessive marching band.

In highschool, she entered a magnificence pageant. Singing “A lot Extra,” the ballad of girlish goals and willpower from “The Fantasticks,” she gained a university scholarship as first runner-up to Alabama’s Junior Miss.

That took her to the College of Montevallo, simply 14 miles from her mother and father’ house, the place she was a music main and obtained her diploma in 1984. Commencement was a yr later than deliberate as a result of she took a break to work with Michigan Opera Theater, the place she met her future New York agent. Simply 5 years after faculty, she was on the Broadway stage, assuming the lead feminine function in “The Phantom of the Opera”— Christine, the refrain lady who’s the item of the phantom’s affections.

“Phantom” was her Broadway debut; she started because the understudy to the unique star, Sarah Brightman; turned an alternate; and took over as Christine in 1989. She remained with the present till 1991.

Ms. Luker moved on instantly to a different Broadway present: She performed a ghost, the little orphan lady’s lifeless Aunt Lily, in “The Secret Backyard.” In his overview in The Occasions, Frank Wealthy singled out “I Heard Somebody Crying,” Ms. Luker’s haunting trio with Mandy Patinkin and Daisy Egan, for particular reward.

In a number of of her later Broadway roles, Ms. Luker changed the unique actress in a long-running hit. She took over as Claudia, the director-protagonist’s movie-star muse, in “9” (2003); Marie, the temperamental fairy godmother, in “Cinderella” (2013); and Helen, the annoyed spouse and mom who misses being an actress — simply as Mrs. Banks had in “Mary Poppins” — in “Enjoyable Residence” (2016).

She grew older gracefully in a variety of her later Off Broadway roles. Twenty years after starring in a 1996 revival of “Brigadoon” as Fiona, a Scottish lass so uncommon she actually does come alongside solely as soon as a century, she performed a droll Buffalo matron in A.R. Gurney’s comedian drama “Indian Blood” (2006). In 2011, she was an Italian duchess grieving her son’s loss of life in Maury Yeston’s musical “Dying Takes a Vacation.”

Ms. Luker additionally had a thriving cabaret profession, showing at intimate venues like Café Carlyle and Feinstein’s/54 Under, however she professed a particular love for “the dwell expertise in entrance of an orchestra.”

The stage was all the time her first house, however she did lastly make her display performing debut in her late 30s when she appeared in “Cupid and Cate” (2000), a Hallmark Corridor of Fame tv film through which she performed the heroine’s excellent and completely smart sister. Between 2010 and 2020, she had visitor roles on collection together with “Boardwalk Empire” and “N.C.I.S. New Orleans” and appeared in three function movies, together with “Not Fade Away” (2012), a drama a couple of teenage rock band.

Her ultimate stage function was as a small-town minister’s narrow-minded spouse in a 2019 Kennedy Middle manufacturing of “Footloose.” She carried out at a live performance in honor of the lyricist Sheldon Harnick in March 2020.

Her final efficiency was in June, by way of Zoom, in a prerecorded profit efficiency, “At Residence With Rebecca Luker.”“After I sing,” she informed The Occasions shortly earlier than that present, “I believe it heals me. It helps me really feel like I’m nonetheless part of one thing.”

Ms. Luker married Gregory Jbara, an actor, in 1993; they divorced in 1996. In 2000 she married the actor Danny Burstein, whom she met after they starred collectively in “Time and Once more” in San Diego.

Mr. Burstein survives her, as do two stepsons, Zachary and Alexander Burstein; a brother, Roger; a sister, Suzanne Luker; her mom, Martha Hales; and her stepfather, Lamar Hales. One other brother, Stephen, died final yr.

Wanting again on her profession in a 2016 Theater Individuals podcast, Ms. Luker expressed gratitude for the roles she’d had however admitted that she most likely ought to have damaged out of the leading-lady mould — studied performing longer and extra critically, appeared in additional performs, achieved extra comedy.

“I want I had branched out somewhat extra,” she mentioned cheerily. “Possibly performed a bitch or one thing.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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