Broadway Star Rebecca Luker Dies at 59

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 23, 2020

Rebecca Luker, left, and her husband Danny Burstein arrive at the 73rd annual Tony Awards in New York on June 9, 2019.
Rebecca Luker, left, and her husband Danny Burstein arrive at the 73rd annual Tony Awards in New York on June 9, 2019.  (Source:Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Rebecca Luker, the celebrated Broadway actress who starred in revivals of "Showboat," "The Sound of Music" and "The Music Man," has died, The New York Times reports. The actress, a three-time Tony nominee, was 59.

Luker's passing was confirmed by her agent, Sarah Fargo. In February 2020, Luker revealed that she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease — a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

Born on April 17, 1961 in Helena, Alabama, Luker attended University of Montevallo where she earned a Bachelor's in Music. In college, she played the role of Johanna in a 1984 Michigan Opera Theater production of "Sweeney Todd." In 1988, the actress made her Broadway debut as part of the original cast of "The Phantom of the Opera," initially as understudy for Christine and then eventually taking over the role from Sarah Brightman.

Luker originated the role of Lily in the 1991 Broadway musical adaptation of "The Secret Garden," played Maria Rainer in a 1998 staging of "The Sound of Music" and replaced Laura Benanti as Claudia in a 2003 Broadway revival of "Nine."

The actress received her first Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for here showstopping portrayal of Magnolia in the 1994 revival of "Show Boat." Her second Best Leading Actress nomination was for her role as Marian Paroo in a 2000 revival of "The Music Man," with a third nomination few years later for her portrayal of Winifred Banks in the 2006 Broadway premiere of Disney's "Mary Poppins."

Luker also starred in Off-Broadway productions of "The Vagina Monologues" (1999), "Indian Blood" (2006), and "Death Takes a Holiday" (2011), earning an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for the latter.

In recent years, she appeared on Broadway as Marie in "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" (2013), and Helen in the LGBTQ-themed "Fun Home" (2016). Luker headlined the 2014 world premiere musical "Little Dancer" and starred in last years production of "Footloose," both at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Luker also recorded an upcoming album, "All the Girls," featuring duets with Sally Wilfert, to be released digitally on December 25, with a CD release to follow on January 15, 2021.

After Luker's marriage to actor Gregory Jbara from 1995-1997, Luker reconnected with friend and co-star Danny Burstein, who also had just been divorced. The two courted and were eventually married in 2000. Luker is survived by Burstein and stepsons Zachary and Alexander.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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