Rebecca Luker figures she was raised on The Sound of Music. "Oh, I love this score! It's the first musical I ever saw. My mother dragged us to the movie when I was nine years old, and two years later, I sang "My Favorite Things" in a talent show and won first place. So in the back of my mind all these years, I thought that someday I would be in The Sound of Music. I just thought it would be in summer stock. I never dreamed I would be playing Maria in the first-ever Broadway revival."
But playing Maria she is, as The Sound of Music, perhaps the most beloved musical of all time, returns to New York for its first Broadway revival in 38 years. The original 1959 stage production, based on the true story of the von Trapp family, starred Mary Martin and won seven Tony Awards. The 1965 film with Julie Andrews garnered five Oscars, including Best Picture, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's last musical collaboration has grossed a billion dollars while endearing itself to the world.
This revival, which opens at the Martin Beck Theatre March 12, is directed by Susan H. Schulman. Schulman, who also directed Luker on Broadway in The Secret Garden and in The Boys From Syracuse in the Encores! series at City Center, glows with confidence. "During her audition Rebecca brought such a freshness to the music, as if I had never heard the score before. Little hairs stood up on the back of my neck. You don't expect songs that you are so familiar with to take you by surprise that way. She has the most glorious voice. The instrument is so pure. Rebecca deserves to play Maria. Since making her Broadway debut in The Phantom of the Opera, she's been waiting for a role to really make her own. She's so right for it. She has such an open spirit."
In addition to Luker, one of the many joys of this Sound of Music is that the score combines songs from both the stage and film versions. "How Can Love Survive?" and "[There's] No Way to Stop It" two songs from the original Broadway show that were omitted from the movie will be heard again, while two songs written for the film "Something Good" and "I Have Confidence" have been added to this production.
Luker even got some coaching on the latter song from none other than Julie Andrews herself. At a recent photo shoot, says Luker, "Julie was a doll. One thing she discussed was 'I Have Confidence,' the song [interpolated from the film] at the top of the show. 'Think of Maria as being just scared to death,' she advised. 'She's on her way to this house, and she doesn't know what to expect. She's nervous. She's just spouting whatever comes into her head.' "
Luker sees Maria as "a very strong and loving woman whose world changes overnight. She is very spunky. I see Maria in parts of me. I just hope I can bring out my tomboy side."
That shouldn't be a problem. Growing up in rural Alabama, Luker frequently hunted with her dad and brothers. "I fished, went frog digging and skinned rabbits. I was just fearless with a knife. Horrible! It's true. I loved doing that stuff. Some of my theatre friends think I'm insane." Between rabbits, though, Luker found time to sing. "I grew up singing with my family in church, in the car on vacations, in school. I just never thought I'd do it for a living. I wanted to be a surgeon, but as a high school senior, I made a decision. I thought, 'Maybe I should just sing.' "
Luker first arrived in New York in 1985 by way of the Michigan Opera Theater. An agent who saw her in Sweeney Todd offered, "If you come to New York, I'll sign you up." Freshly graduated from college, she borrowed money from her family and moved. Within two weeks, she got a concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and soon after she was cast in The Phantom of the Opera.
"Looking back now, I should have been scared to death," Luker says. "But when you're younger, you have that tenacity. I just went to auditions as they came along. Growing up, I didn't know anything about Broadway. I didn't see a Broadway show until I came to New York."
As anyone who has ever seen her onstage will attest, Luker made the right decision. Her performance as Magnolia in the most recent Hal Prince revival of Show Boat brought her a Tony nomination, and she garnered rave reviews as Adriana in The Boys From Syracuse and as a recording artist on the acclaimed CD, Aria.
During the past year, director Schulman and other members of The Sound of Music creative team made pilgrimages to Salzburg. "Everywhere you look," Schulman marvels, "there are mountains powerful, beautiful, at times ominous, a beautiful world on the precipice. Our opening night marks the [60th] anniversary to the day that Nazi forces marched into Austria. '[There's] No Way to Stop It' mirrors the sentiment in Salzburg at that time . People thought they had no options; others thought it would pass, so 'make friends where you can.' Many felt helpless. That's what makes a patriot like von Trapp such a courageous man."
And as goodness triumphed over adversity, The Sound of Music, with the glorious Rebecca Luker at its center, continues to touch the heart.