26 June, 2013

An Open Letter to Rebecca Luker

Dear Rebecca,

So, Hi.
This is weird.
I think I know that.
I mean, we're sort of 'colleagues' now, though we haven't worked together (yet!), and we know each others' names and have come to each others' shows, but here is the thing:

I feel like I have to tell you something. Truth is, when I dig deep down and reeeally give it a good think, there really is no other single person who has influenced my artistic life as profoundly as you.

[*takes a deep breath... exhales...*]

I know.
I know that is an intense thing to say.
It is a "fan girl" thing to say and I am not, nor have I ever actually been a fan girl.
Not in real life.
Only about Angela Lansbury really (but I admit that falls under the category of "Crazy Love" and doesn't count... at least I hope not...)
Because first of all I'm of the pre-Tumblr generation, and on top of that I'm actually quite shy (I couldn't even come to meet you at stage door when I came to The Sound of Music in '98) plus, I dunno, I was born in LA, something about seeing celebrities at the bank and grocery store and all that...

But, listen, this is the crucial part:
you taught me how to sing
You didn't know that you were doing it, but you did.

I would listen to recordings of you and pour over them with a fine tooth comb, ear pressed close to the speaker, completely in astonishment of how you don't really seem to have a break, how your vibrato is so even and natural and "spinny" and how your tone is like velvet, and in attempting to emulate it, I learned how to sing. In addition, your depth of feeling oozes through your voice in a way that says you trust not only your own depth of spirit, but the depth of those that hear you--it is the ultimate in creative dignity. You make old songs sound fresh and vibrant as if they were written yesterday. You make new material soar. You showed me how a soprano could be a leader in the modern era and, I am unutterably grateful for everything you inadvertently gave me.

But I am even more grateful that you are the loveliest, most gracious person in real life, who clearly loves her husband and family, who allows people to share their toothpaste (and forgives them for being super weird about it weeks later), who comes to shows Downtown, who then waits around to be generous with praise for those that are coming along behind her legacy. I am grateful for your humility, genuine, charming self-effacing sense of humor, and for your deep well of inner beauty, as much as for your talent.

When I was growing up, the classics of Broadway were the stories that shaped me; Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Lowe, Jerome Kern, Bernstein, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and those that picked up their batons. And interestingly, when I began my career in England (where I never dreamed wind would blow me) I never really came across the people that I spent so much time listening to in my bedroom, in the car, mimicking in the shower, or on a bunk bed at summer camp. I suppose, when I returned over three years ago now, I couldn't stop reeling from how commonplace it seemed to "run into" these iconic people, to share stages and Greenrooms with them-- it felt like a veritable "Whose Who" of teenage theatrical appreciation.
     "Oh hey, Brian Stokes Mitchell, thanks for clasping my hands so sincerely, welcoming me to Broadway and then telling me casually as we exchange Voice Over stories that you were ONE OF THE VOICES OF THE CALIFORNIA RAISINS. Because the world just got THAT much better."
     "Heeeeey Marin Mazzie, allow me to sing at Carnegie Hall opposite your husband and you can just sit next to my Mom in that box up there and you and Peter Freidman--stars of the first Broadway show I ever saw--can just, you know: come backstage afterward and we can all just pal about like this happens ALL THE TIME." 
     "'Sup, Sheldon Harnick? Thank you for being my real life 'Dear Friend.'"
     "And hey there, John Cullum, allow me to just call you at home on the 5th of July after weeping over 1776 which was on cable last night, and we can have a real heart-to-heart about your legacy and how much it and the theatre means to both of us..."
And I mean, I am. I basically know how to keep my cool. At a certain point all these people become people because they are, and you grow up (and to) realize that we all have similar processes, and the show must go on and everyone has bad vocal days and dry spells and relationship problems and coffee addictions and cellulite and its actually really marvelous. I just hope that my inner child never stops finding joy in encountering these people--never stops marveling at how I got to be so fortunate. And if I am ever so lucky to be one of those people for the generations to follow, may I be as down-to-earth-elegant as you about it.

And this is where I suppose I open this letter up to everyone-- we all have these people. Not "idols," though I am certain we have those too, but I am speaking of the real, true Role Models present in our lives in the purest sense of the word. Those individuals who form and shape the people we become by their example by simply being themselves and allowing the world to observe and edify their own paths from their precedent.

May we all revere such people, and, no matter what we do, how public or private, may we all endeavor to become role models ourselves for those we may never even know to be watching us...

So Rebecca, it occurred to me the other night at 54 Below when I came to see your glorious cabaret of Jerome Kern tunes, how much I wanted to be there. How much I wanted to hear you sing with a capital 'S.' But what really grabbed me by the collar was in fact after the show, when I came up to you and you said, sweetly as ever,
     "Alexandra, hello! Thank you for coming!"
... and we had a really nice, lovely, cordial exchange because... I don't know, I guess we're in this together now. When did that actually happen?
And I felt it--right there in the bar.
I felt that moment more than ever that I had somehow Arrived
How glorious. 
How commonplace.
How simple a little 'hello--'
--a greeting that could never, ever fully articulate my appreciation for all of the above.
And how perfect that that precise moment of clarity, should come from you.

So (not at all creepily, but in an utterly normal manner), I thank you.
For all of it.





  1. Kind of love this. I have been lucky enough to have been in the room with writers (Ahrens and Flaherty, Sheldon Harnick) whose work has deeply inspired me, and then had the chance to have them hear what I do and get their feedback and occasional praise. It's extraordinary to know that our role models are human and accessible, and yet also still worthy of the adulation we give them.

  2. Love this , Al!!



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