Rebecca Luker is as corny as Kansas in August. Well, at least that’s what she’s singing at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall this weekend. What she really is, though, is as charming as Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
Performing with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Chorus, Luker proves she’s as good an interpreter of tunes from the “Golden Age” of Broadway musicals as any soprano before her, including Barbara Cook. Luker’s version of “A Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific is every bit as convincing as Cook’s definitive version. Luker is one of three soloists at the NSO Pops tribute this weekend to Rodgers and Hammerstein, one of the greatest duos in Broadway history. Tenor Aaron Lazar also shines throughout the night, and baritone Rod Gilfry has a moment or two. Steven Reineke, the NSO’s new Principal Pops Conductor, is an enthusiastic presence on the podium, and his energy is infectious.
The gay Reineke's move to launch his inaugural season with some of the best, most indelible showtunes ever written should not go unnoticed by local theater queens. And hearing a full orchestra, several times the size of a regular theater orchestra, along with a full chorus take on Broadway tunes is, in so many words, an enchanting evening. The vocals come sweeping down the plain in the chorus’s opening number, a wonderfully realized, transfixing interpretation of the theme to Oklahoma! It's all uphill from there, ending with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s commercial pinnacle, The Sound of Music.
Which brings us back to Luker, who is nearly always smiling and swaying along, even when she isn't performing, regaling the crowd with her pristine soprano and clear diction. She chuckled as the chorus men took to whistling at various points, most gloriously in “There is Nothing Like a Dame.” And she repeatedly bobbed her head along as the orchestra launched into the night’s many jaunty refrains. Luker, who earned critical acclaim years ago starring as Maria in The Sound of Music, clearly loves this songbook. Just as clearly, it loves her right back.
Remaining performance tonight, Oct. 15, at 8 p.m. Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Tickets are $20 to $85. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.