In this busy spring full of Great White Way openings, some of the best Broadway-style singing you’re likely to hear is over on Park Avenue, where Rebecca Luker is headlining at Feinstein’s.
Luker first visited the Regency last December. The success of her four-day engagement merited this two-week spring return, with what is described as an “updated” show. As before, the slogan “dedicated to female songwriters” is prominent, although most of the songs have at least one male writer in the mix. Let’s just call them good songs, well selected and impeccably performed.
The blond soprano came to Broadway in 1991 as a good-looking singer with a pretty, bell-like voice. The talent on display at the Regency has deepened considerably. She still has those fine, clear tones, but along with warmth and friendliness comes a knowing humor and hints of an earthy personality.
Alabama-born Luker is nowadays being compared to that other transplanted Southern songbird, Barbara Cook, and not unreasonably so. But Cook lost 20-odd years of her career to personal demons. Luker is in her prime.
If the Regency stint is any indication, she has developed charisma and acting ability that were not in evidence in her days as the sweet-and-virtuous leading lady. Get this girl a job in a new musical, now.
Other than “The Secret Garden,” her debut, Luker’s stage work has been in revivals, including “Show Boat,” “The Music Man,” “The Sound of Music” and “Nine.” This only points up the sad fact that they don’t write ’em like they used to — at least not for sopranos.
Luker, with director Mark Waldrop and musical director Joseph Thalken, do their best to disprove this argument. Half of the program is devoted to songs by songwriters who haven’t yet made it on Broadway, including Jeff Blumenkrantz, the team of Marcy Heisler & Zina Goldrich, and Thalken himself. Promising writers, yes; more importantly, these are highly effective theater songs.