In December two-time Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker — she of the golden smile and equally golden voice — made her New York cabaret debut at Feinstein's at the Regency with a program spotlighting women songwriters both old and new. In his New York Times review critic Stephen Holden wrote, "If you've been wondering who, if anyone, might be the heir to the great Barbara Cook, Ms. Luker . . . is the one." Luker, whose Broadway outings include The Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden, Show Boat, The Sound of Music, The Music Man and Nine, is set to return to the posh nightclub May 9-20 with a reprise of her eclectic December program. Concertgoers will have the pleasure of hearing the talented singing actress wrap her lovely tones around such tunes as "The Best Is Yet to Come," "Getting Over You," "The Noises That Joy Makes," "Killing Time," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Come to My Garden" and "I Wouldn't Trade You." Though there will be plenty of Luker's glorious soprano on display, audiences can expect to hear her alto as well, which she also uses with great skill on her wonderful solo recording, "Leaving Home" (PS Classics). I recently had the chance to chat with the charming Luker, who spoke about her cabaret engagement, her marriage to actor Danny Burstein and her upcoming returns to both the Broadway and Off-Broadway stage. That brief chat follows.
Question: This past December you made your cabaret debut at Feinstein's. What was that experience like for you — performing in such an intimate environment?
Rebecca Luker: It was really different. I had never really done cabaret before quite like that, [in a] very respectable, fancy place. It was a lot of fun though. The audience was fantastic, and people that were there were there to have fun, and they did — a lovely crowd. The intimacy of it was shocking — you'd walk out and [the audience] was right there two feet from you. That took getting used to, but it quickly turned into something that was very enjoyable.
Q: Will the show you performed in December be similar to what you'll be performing this time?
Luker: It is almost exactly the same thing. I only did four nights, and I figured I'd take a cue from Barbara Cook and others and do a repeat thing because it was such a short engagement. I am cutting a couple of songs, and I'm changing the encore and one song in the middle will also be changed.
Q: Tell me about how you went about choosing songs for the show the first time around.
Luker: Well, I really just sat down and started to list [songs]. I knew I wanted to do some new things. I went into it knowing that. I also wanted it to be different from my Lincoln Center concert at the Allen Room, which was the February before that. But I did want to do new songs like I did then. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should really mix it up and do new and old [material]. So I started with that idea, started to write some songs down, and I started to write down a lot of songs that were written by women, and I thought, "Why don't I just go with that idea?" It literally was that easy. Some of my friends, women songwriters — I'm doing some of their stuff, and I'm doing some Betty Comden, Carolyn Leigh, Dorothy Fields, Kay Swift, some of the old great [songs] mixed in, too. It's a mixture of styles also. A couple of funny, sweet ones and a couple of sad ones, and a little bit about my life. Not too much about my life — if you want to get to know me, you might get to know me through the songs or how I sing the songs, but I don't presume to think that I'm interesting enough to go into my life so much, so I prefer to just enjoy doing the show. And that's my cabaret thing. It's an hour-long [show], and I have some wonderful guys playing for me — Joe Thalken on piano and Dick Sarpola on bass. They were the same guys that were with me last time, and it's just the three of us, and we have a ball.
Q: I'm always interested in the process of learning a song. When you're given a song you've never performed, how do you go about learning it — do you work on the melody first or the lyrics . . .
Luker: I tend to just listen to the song once through, and then I try to write down the lyrics by hand, and that helps me learn them. And then I type them out. I type out a lyric sheet, and I carry it around with me in my book and look at it every now and then. That's how I do it. Then I try to do it with Joe [Thalken], make myself not look at it, and go through it with him. And then finally it gets in my head.
Q: Have you ever thought of performing any songs from Light in the Piazza? I think that score would suit your voice well.
Luker: Oh, I would love to do that, most definitely. I hope I get to do that role someday, somewhere. I tend to think of this show — while I'm doing some classically old musical theatre songs — I'm doing a lot of contemporary [songs]. I tend to think of The Light in the Piazza score more for a concert, but I would love to learn that music.
Q: You mentioned Barbara Cook before. In his New York Times review, Stephen Holden remarked that you might be the heir to Barbara Cook. What did you think of that comparison?
Luker: I was very flattered by it — fantastic. While I know that we're very different also, it was a lovely thing that he said, and I'll take it! [Laughs.] Who knows? I'm who I am, and I'm going to have a very different career from Barbara Cook, of course, but if he saw any similarities, I'm delighted.
Q: I remember early in your career you had mentioned that somewhere down the line you thought you might end up doing some opera, and I wonder if that still appeals to you.
Luker: It does, it absolutely does. I don't want to limit myself. I'd love to do a new opera — that would be very exciting. I've done one of those, and I'd love to do another. Or even the old stuff, Mozart, I really would love to. I don't know if that will ever happen, but I hope it will someday.
Q: Who were your vocal influences growing up and who do you admire today?
Luker: I have lots of friends that I admire — my peers — we all support each other and admire each other. [Growing up it was] Julie Andrews, I suppose. I lived out in the middle of nowhere in Alabama, and I really just saw a couple of movie musicals every now and then, "West Side Story" and "Sound of Music." I loved Doris Day. There were only a few though — Judy Garland [also].
Q: It must have been particularly exciting for you to get to do the Sound of Music revival.
Luker: It definitely was, and [Julie] was sort of involved in the publicity of it with us. I had actually met her years before that, but she's a dear.
Q: You're married to actor Danny Burstein. Do you two look for projects together or do you try to keep your professional lives separate?
Luker: We don't actively look for things together, and it normally doesn't turn out that way. We're very different, and we tend to be cast in very different types of shows. He's about to open in Drowsy Chaperone, and he's very excited about that. He's a great character actor, so he gets all these interesting jobs, and I tend to get the more traditional [roles] . . . but that's kind of changing for me. As I'm getting older, I'm doing more plays, which makes me very happy.
Q: You're doing a new play at Primary Stages . . .
Luker: I am. I'm doing a new A.R. Gurney play. It's called Indian Blood. It's a fantastic, brand-new play. He's written three new plays actually, and this is just one of them. It's a 1946 Buffalo family — Pete [Gurney] is from there — I play the mother/wife. The story centers around my 16-year-old son — it's sort of a memory play. Very provincial househould. I get to be a little different, a little bohemian, a little ahead of my time in the role, and I'm so looking forward to tackling it. I love him, and I love his plays. . . . We open in July and run through early September.
Q: How does performing in a play compare to performing in a musical for you?
Luker: Oh gosh, I just love it. I want to do a lot more of that. I don't usually get as many opportunities to do plays, but I think the more I do them, the more I'll do. But I just love it. It's hard on your voice because you're not used to just talking a lot, so I did have to learn to use my voice in a little bit of a different way. But I love the challenge of it.
Q: I think one of the great City Center Encores! moments was your singing in the trio of "Sing for Your Supper." What was that experience like?
Luker: Thank you. It was fantastic. I'd love to do another one. They do wonderful stuff, and it was great to get to be a little funny and sing that classic Rodgers and Hart score. I had a ball.
Q: You were also one of the first to play Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, and I was wondering what it was like to attend the recent, record-breaking performance.
Luker: Oh God, it was a hoot — I saw so many old friends, people I hadn't seen, literally, in the 17 years since I was in it. It was surreal, actually sitting out there watching the show, but I loved it.
Q: Had you seen the show before from the audience? I know Michael Crawford said afterward that that was the first time he had ever seen Phantom as an audience member.
Luker: Oh yes. When I was understudying and training to be Christine, I saw the show a little bit. And, about a month before the anniversary, I took my stepson to see it.
Q: How did they go about staging the finale with all the former stars of the show?
Luker: We did it that day. That was crazy! I don't know how many of us were out there — we filled the stage. . . Not quite enough rehearsal time! [Laughs.]
Q: Do your stepsons live with you and Danny?
Luker: They live with us part of the time and with their mom up near Albany the other part. The boys are 13 and 10.
Q: How is it being a stepmom?
Luker: It's great. I've known them for seven years, and they're terrific kids. It's a whole new life though. I got a whole new life with them. Danny's a great dad, and we've managed to make it work. So far, so good!
Q: Do you have a favorite role from the ones you've done on Broadway?
Luker: I would have to say that [The Music Man's] Marian is up there, if not there. It was one of the life-long dreams to do that role. I also loved doing Nine. That was a lot of fun. I just did three or four months in that, [but] I got to be Italian and wear a dark wig, and [be a] totally different person.
Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Luker: I do, but I can't tell you what it is. You'll know very soon! They're going to announce the cast shortly. Q: Is it Broadway or Off-Broadway?
Luker: It's Broadway, but that's all I can say. [Laughs.]
[Rebecca Luker will play Feinstein's at the Regency, which is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street, May 9-20. There is a $60 cover and a $40 minimum for all shows. Call (212) 339-4095 for reservations or visit www.ticketweb.com.]
FOR THE RECORD: Julia Murney's "I'm Not Waiting"
As talented as any of her musical theatre peers, Julia Murney's career has been a bit of an odd one. Although she triumphed in the Off-Broadway production of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, it wasn't until this season when the multitalented performer finally made her long-awaited Broadway debut in Lennon, one of the bright spots of that short-lived production. Things seem to be looking up, however, for the singing actress, who is currently starring as everybody's favorite green gal in the national tour of Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's Wicked. As she travels the country, Murney is receiving rave notices for her work as the misunderstood Elphaba, and she is also just about to release her debut solo recording, "I'm Not Waiting," on the Sh-K-Boom Records label. The 11-track disc further showcases Murney's many abilities and demonstrates that the powerhouse vocalist is comfortable singing in an array of styles. From country to rock to Broadway, Murney is completely at home, and whether she's belting her heart out or singing with a gentle stillness, she always makes for compelling listening.
Murney begins her solo disc with a wonderful pairing of "A Thousand Beautiful Things" and "Beautiful Day" and proceeds to offer a mix of tunes by such composers as Susan Werner, Joni Mitchell, Tom Kitt, Stephen Schwartz, John Lennon, Tom Waits and Andrew Lippa, who also produced the CD. The disc's highlights include a lovely rendition of Lennon's "Beautiful Boy"; Tom Kitt's "Perfect," about a love affair that is anything but; and a moving version of Schwartz's "I'm Not That Girl": in fact, listen to the vocal colors and thoughtful phrasing that Murney brings to this Wicked charmer. Murney also scores with two country-tinged story songs, Bobbie Gentry's "Fancy" and Susan Werner's "Misery and Happiness," and she lets her belt soar on "When I First Me Him," the title track and The Wild Party's "Raise the Roof," all three by composer-producer Lippa, who also provides amusing liner notes about his and Murney's first encounter.
"I'm Not Waiting" is set to hit stores May 9. For more information or to purchase the disc on-line, visit www.sh-k-boom.com.
Two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters — who will make a guest appearance on the May 11 episode of NBC's "Will & Grace" — will conclude the eighth season of the acclaimed American Songbook series May 1 at 8 PM at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. The sold-out concert will feature the beloved singing actress backed by a 28-piece orchestra under the direction of her long-time musical director Marvin Laird. With artistic direction by Richard Jay-Alexander, concertgoers can expect to hear Peters wrap her lush tones around several of her Broadway signature tunes, songs from her Grammy-nominated albums as well as the jazz standard "Fever" and a couple of extra surprises.
Some of the more exciting vocals of the season can be heard Off-Broadway in the current revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Zipper Theatre, where Gay Marshall is belting up a storm, singing the songs of the late Belgian performer with a mix of power and deeply felt emotion. Marshall, who kicks off the Gordon Greenberg-directed revue with "Le Diable (Ca Va)," has been handed some of Brel's most haunting songs, including "My Childhood," "Sons Of," "Marieke" and "Carousel." She is at her best on the two war-themed offerings, "Sons Of" and "Marieke," her throaty alto and her never-wavering sincerity penetrating the heart of the listener. I also enjoyed the work of Natascia Diaz, who triumphs with both "My Death" and "You're Not Alone."
Jessica Boevers, seen on Broadway earlier this season in the short-lived musical In My Life, has been cast in the title role of the upcoming Ravinia Festival production of Gypsy. A spokesperson for the theatre told me that Boevers will play Louise — aka Gypsy Rose Lee — in the musical, which will star Tony Award winner Patti LuPone as Mama Rose. Jack Willis, who co-starred with LuPone in the 1997 drama The Old Neighborhood, will again play opposite the actress as salesman-turned-agent Herbie. The actors will join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for three performances of the classic Sondheim-Jule Styne-Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy Aug. 11-13. Lonny Price will direct the production, and Paul Gemignani will conduct the famed orchestra. Gypsy tickets can now be reserved by calling (847) 266-5100 or by visiting www.ravinia.org.
A healthy dose of Broadway's finest will enliven the Orange County Performing Arts Center's 2006-07 cabaret/concert series, which is held in the Center's Founders Hall. Tony winner Jane Krakowski, who recently won an Olivier Award for her performance in the London production of Guys and Dolls, will kick off the cabaret series, playing Nov. 9-12. Krakowski will offer her Better When It's Banned concert, which she premiered for Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" series. The concert features a mix of songs that were once taboo, including "When I'm Low I Get High," "A Guy What Takes His Time" and "Wacky Dust" as well as more well-known works as "Ten Cents a Dance" and "But in the Morning No." . . . The Life Tony winner Lillias White will bring her stentorian vocals to Orange County audiences Dec. 28-31. Her cabaret evenings will offer a mix of pop, rock, soul, blues, jazz and Broadway. White is expected to wrap her rich tones around "Mustang Sally," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," "Big Fat Daddy," "At Seventeen" and "I Wanna Be Loved." . . . Tony winner Barbara Cook and four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald will join forces for a concert in the Segerstrom Concert Hall Jan. 5, 2007. Cook and McDonald will offer tunes from their respective repertoires as well as a few duets. . . . Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone, who is currently enjoying rave reviews for her performance of Mrs. Lovett in John Doyle's production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, will take to the Founders Hall stage Jan. 18-21, 2007. LuPone will offer her much-heralded concert act, The Lady with the Torch, which has just been released on the Ghostlight Records label. LuPone's investigation of "Torch" includes her riveting renditions of "So in Love," "The Man I Love," "I Wanna Be Around" and "I'm Through with Love." . . . Singer-songwriter Amanda McBroom, seen Off-Broadway earlier this season in A Woman of Will, will return to The Center March 22-25. McBroom's own compositions include "Errol Flynn," "Ship in a Bottle," "Dreamin'" and, her biggest hit, "The Rose." . . . The cabaret season will conclude May 10-13, 2007, with husband-and-wife team Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley. The duo will offer their cabaret program, Opposite You, which was released earlier this year on CD by PS Classics. Their act features a mix of songs by such composers as Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin and Stephen Flaherty. . . . The Orange County Performing Arts Center is located in Costa Mesa, CA, at 600 Town Center Drive. For tickets, call (714) 556-2787. Visit www.ocpac.org for more information.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.