Broadway's Rebecca Luker Takes Flight
The actress talks playing a crazy fairy godmother, balancing a Broadway marriage, and mastering the magic of those ''Cinderella'' quick-changes.
When we last saw Rebecca Luker on the Great White Way, she was trying to manage the mischief and calamity that was taking place at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, as Winifred Banks in the original cast of Mary Poppins. As you might recall, the musical featured a whimsical nanny who memorably flew to the rafters of the New Amsterdam Theatre, much to the delight of theatergoers.
These days, it's Luker who gets to take flights of fancy several times a week in the Tony Award-nominated revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella at the Broadway Theatre, where she inhabits a similar motherly role as Marie, the Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, played by Laura Osnes. "I love that I get to fly in the show," Luker says. "I've never done flying before so it's fun to be able to do that."
It might be her first time flying, but she's no stranger to enchanting audiences, which began in 1988 when she made her Broadway debut in The Phantom of the Opera. She followed that up with critically acclaimed star turns in shows like The Secret Garden, Show Boat, The Sound of Music, and The Music Man. (Luker's performances as Magnolia in Show Boat and Marian Paroo in The Music Man earned her Tony Award nominations.) Luker would later join Antonio Banderas in the Tony-winning revival of Nine in the role of Claudia before nabbing another Tony nomination for her moving turn as Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins.
Following Poppins, Luker completed a host of other projects including Maury Yeston's off-Broadway musical Death Takes a Holiday. She also paid tribute to the legendary Barbara Cook at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors and guest-starred on television shows like Law & Order: SVU and Boardwalk Empire.
Luker was called to play Marie, the Fairy Godmother, after original cast member Victoria Clark left to perform in Broadway's The Snow Geese. Luker is positively ebullient about Cinderella and the slightly off-kilter character she plays.
"I love Douglas Carter Beane's updated script," says Luker. "It's still a moving story — very sweet and romantic — but he's added some zingy, very funny humor. And I've never done a crazy character like Marie before, so I'm having a lot of fun bringing her to life each night."
The fun doesn't stop there. Luker gets to execute some seemingly impossible onstage transformations thanks to William Ivey Long's Tony Award-winning costumes. "My onstage transformation is so much fun," says Luker. "My dresser, Vicky Grecki — the most wonderful woman in the world — told me that she and Vicki Clark had a whale of a time in the beginning because they had so many kinks to work out. But they worked them out night after night in front of an audience and now I'm the lucky recipient of the final product."
Luker is mum on the secrets of the transformation, though. "People truly are stunned when it happens. I'm asked about it all the time. They want to know how it's done," she says. "My response? ‘I'd have to kill you if I tell you,' or to the little kids: ‘It's magic!'"
After the audiences have exited and the costumes are put away, life is no less magical for Luker, who is married to fellow-theater luminary Danny Burstein, who incidentally is appearing alongside Victoria Clark in The Snow Geese. Luker and Burstein performing in shows concurrently proves at times to be complicated as husband and wife, but they make it work.
"It's hard, but it's a priority for both of us to take time for each other and to make time for our boys," Luker says. "We make time to be together and have fun and relax, which might mean giving up an audition or a press appearance. If we did everything, we'd never see each other."
Looking back on her glowing career, it's been quite a while since she first donned Christine Daaé's pointe shoes in Phantom. And it looks like Broadway is aging just fine to her. "Theater has gotten stronger, more and more people are coming to see things. Producers are taking more chances and the outreach is wonderful," she says. "I think Broadway has changed for the better. It's been a wonderful couple of decades."