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What Rebecca Luker Taught Me About Leaving A Legacy On Broadway And In Life

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Rebecca Luker

Broadway legend Rebecca Luker passed away on Wednesday, December 23. She is known for starring in Broadway classics like The Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden, The Sound of Music, and more. 

Rebecca Luker was 59 years old and was born on April 17, 1961, making her an Aries.

She was from Helena, Alabama, but passed away in Manhattan battling with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Luker was a force to be reckoned with, and she has taught me many lessons about leaving a legacy on Broadway and in life. 

Rebecca Luker is leaving a legacy. 

Luker’s name is synonymous with Broadway, since she's starred in so many productions and was a legend in the theatre community. Keep reading to learn about all she has made a huge impact on theatre and on the world.

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Luker had an amazing Broadway career. 

Rebecca Luker had a great career on Broadway.

In 1988, she made her Broadway debut in The Phantom of the Opera as Christine. Then in 1991, she originated the role of Lily in The Secret Garden. Years later, she was the star of Show Boat and The Sound of Music. 

In 2000, Luker was in the revival of The Music Man and in 2003 went on to play Claudia in Nine. In 2006, she originated the role of Winifred Banks in Mary Poppins. After, she appeared in Rogers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella and lastly in Fun Home in 2016. 

Also, she was a cabaret performer and debuted her solo cabaret act called “Rebecca Luker Sings Jerome Kern” at 54 Below. 

Luker has been nominated and won awards for her performances. She received three Tony Award nominations for her roles in Show Boat, The Music Man, and Mary Poppins. She won a Bistro Award for Feinstein’s at the Regency (Solo Cabaret). 

She battled ALS. 

On February 9, 2020, Rebecca Luker announced that she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS.

She tweeted, “Hello friends. I have some tough news. Late last year I was diagnosed with ALS. I have the best medical care in the world and the greatest support.  My dear husband Danny has been an angel.  I will get well.  In the meantime, we fight and go forward. Keep us in your thoughts.”

In June, she hosted a virtual benefit for ALS called “At Home With Rebecca Luker” so she could still sing and perform at that point. 

By October, she was in a wheelchair for a couple of months and had “no diaphragm,” so she could not speak loudly.

In April of 2020, Luker’s husband Danny Burstein got COVID-19 and was hospitalized at St. Luke’s in Manhattan until he got better. Right before, Burstein was starring in Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! and many of his cast members got COVID-19 as well before the show closed. 

Burstein decided to publicly open up about his experience and explained: 

“I was recovering and Becca was just starting her own bout with the virus.” He continued, “But that meant I would be responsible for caring for my wife, who is also struggling with ALS. No health care worker in their right mind would come to our home as we were both suffering with the aftereffects of the coronavirus.

We were very much on our own. The next month was spent pretty much alone in isolation. Despite being dizzy and in a constant state of exhaustion, I was somehow able to care for her.”

Burstein also explained Luker’s symptoms, “She can’t brush her hair today. That’s new. She needs two hands to drink her morning medicine. I had to feed her the last half of her meal last night. Most days she won’t let me feed her and would rather eat less than let me help. I spend my days helping, she spends her days fighting.” 

He adds, “Every few days we have to mourn something else she used to do so easily. And still we have hope. She is strong, but searching for answers as she sees her body failing her. And yet she has hope. I don’t know what to feel. I’ve always been the more pragmatic one. She has always been so sure. I can’t deny her hope. I have some, too. But I have to keep preparing for the worst. And I hate that I am preparing for the worst. But we are hoping our hopes come true.”

Luker passed away soon after on Wednesday, December 23, at a hospital in Manhattan.

Rebecca Luker was a mother.

Rebecca Luker got married to Danny Burstein in 2000. Right before they started their relationship, Luker was going through a breakup and Burnstein was going through a divorce with Laura Toma. 

Burstein explains

“I was married with two kids. My youngest son had just been born when we met each other, and that year-and-a-half later my ex-wife and I separated. It was a sad, sad, terrible time in my life.

Rebecca had actually been through a divorce before, so she knew exactly where I was and what I was going through. We just started hanging out, and one thing led to another. It was easy because we were friends first, and we didn't have to go through that awkward dating thing wondering whether or not we liked each other. We did like each other. We were friends.”

So, Luker became a stepmother to Burstein’s two sons, Zachary and Alexander Burstein.

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Rebecca Luker left a legacy. 

Rebecca Luker was known for her “crystal-clear operatic soprano” and she “embodied the essence of the Broadway musical ingénue.” Luker even stated, "When I sing, I think it heals me. It helps me feel like I'm still a part of something." 

After her passing, many of Luker’s fans and peers began tweeting about how she really made her mark on the stage. 

Bernadette Peters tweeted, “Rebecca Luker was one of the most beautiful voices on Broadway and a lovely person ,,We are all devastated for Danny  and  for ourselves,,we will never get to witness her talents on stage again. RIP Dear Dear Girl” 

Kristen Chenoweth tweeted, “My friend and one of the main reasons I wanted to be a soprano.... Her voice was soprano heaven. I love you, Rebecca. I know you’re no longer in pain and already singing your heart out up there”

Although, Luker will always be remembered for her Broadway career and especially for the roles she originated, she has made me realize that when you originate a role, like Lily and Winifred Banks, her performance will get passed down from person to person for generations to come.

It has been explained that “actors’ input on line inflections and gestures are details informed by inhabiting the role and later become definitive to that character, arguably influencing how the entire piece is received by audiences and reviewed by critics.”

Every person that steps in Winifred Banks or Lily’s shoes are also stepping in Luker’s.

The next people to take on the role will take what Luker created and then add to it and make it their own. When those characters step on stage, her legacy will make an appearance as well.

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Jaycee Levin is a writer, influencer, and blogger living in New York who loves celebrities, fashion, and reality television. She covers news and entertainment for Yourtango. Follow her on Instagram.