The Artside: Local theater loses two voices; Broadway star comes home

Matthew Adams (from left), Tere Luke and Steve Walpert appear in Inspecting Carol, staged by Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre in December 1996. GENE HOWARD/SPECIAL

A few lights have gone out from Augusta’s stages in the past few weeks.

 

I suppose it was fitting that I learned of Tere Luke’s death while sitting in a theater.

I’d taken my son, Jeremy, to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta on Aug. 19 to see An American in Paris, a mesmerizing mix of ballet, some tap and the music of George Gershwin. During intermission, I opened to my Facebook page to find two posts mourning Luke’s death. Both Steve Walpert of Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre and Debi Ballas of The Augusta Players had posted comments in his memory.

I knew Luke from Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre. I’d seen him in a several shows as well as interviewed him numerous times for stories I’d written about shows. I enjoyed interviewing Luke. He could be over the top, but he was witty and gave some great quotes, which is something you are always hoping for when you are writing a story. And on stage, he made the characters real.

Walpert cast Luke in numerous shows during the time he was head of the entertainment program and never regretted the end product, and I asked him for a couple of comments to include in this column.

“You always knew when Tere was in the room or on the stage. He had such a presence. He was fun, dramatic and bold, but at the same time, he could be quiet and empathetic. He had such a great range,” he said.

Over the years, the two developed a great friendship as well as a working relationship.

Walpert said he knew that if he cast Luke in a show, he could depend on him to do the research and do the work needed to pull of the role. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t play. From a king to a clown, he could do them all and do them well.

“I never heard a negative about any of his performances,” he said. “He could hold an audience’s attention like no other.”

Last week was a difficult one for Walpert who not only spoke at Luke’s service on Aug. 26, but had to attend the Aug. 25 memorial service for Sara Bryan who died on July 25.

She was another long-time Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre actress.

“Those two started about the same time together,” he said. “She started working with me when she was a captain at Fort Gordon.”

As Augusta says goodbye to two from its theater community, it’s also saying hello to an Augustan who is retiring from his life on the road. Russell Joel Brown has traveled with Disney’s The Lion King for several years including having the opportunity to play the role of Mufasa on Broadway in 2016.

Now he’s taken another role. He’ll be teaching drama at SAIL, the School for Arts Infused Learning, in Evans.

I’ve seen Brown perform several times. My earliest memories of him include HMS Pinafore with the Augusta Opera in 2002, and I did get a chance to see him at the Fox Theatre in 2014 in The Lion King, where I had a chance to meet him for a backstage tour after the show. It was truly a night I’ll never forget.

Children attending SAIL are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him.

 

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