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A new music video honors the life and legacy of Tony Award-nominated actress and singer Rebecca Luker one year after her death.
Produced in conjunction with Project ALS, the video for “She Has Hope” features never-before-seen footage of the late actress and highlights the lives of several other women diagnosed with the nervous system disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s. Luker, who co-wrote the song with her husband and Moulin Rouge! The Musical star Danny Burstein, died on Dec. 23, 2020, from complications of ALS. Burstein opened up about her passing in a January 2021 essay for The Hollywood Reporter, in which he also shared lyrics that are now featured in the song.
“It is truly the greatest honor to have created this with Danny and Rebecca and to have collaborated with them in telling their story,” “She Has Hope” co-writer Tom Kitt told The Hollywood Reporter. “I would hope that this song serves as a beautiful tribute to a great artist who lived a meaningful and inspiring life for all those lucky to know her and witness her extraordinary talent and humanity.”
With orchestration by Simon Hale, “She Has Hope” is performed by Broadway legend Brian d’Arcy James, who appears in the video alongside the Tony-, Emmy-, Grammy- and Pulitzer Award-winning composer Kitt. The video, like the song, offers a counter-narrative to mainstream notions about who amyotrophic lateral sclerosis impacts.
“One major take-home from ‘She Has Hope’ is that women and men of all ages get ALS, often out of nowhere,” Valerie Estess, Project ALS co-founder and director of research, told THR. “Project ALS recognizes ALS as an equal-opportunity disease. Attention must be paid — no one is immune.”
According to the ALS Association, while there are higher diagnoses in individuals between 40 and 70, the disease can also occur in one’s 20s and 30s. Research has also found that “with increasing age, the incidence of ALS is more equal between men and women.”
“This song seeks to pay honor Rebecca and all the women who live with ALS, and I hope, helps humanize what they are going through,” Kitt explains. “They are the true heroes, and I would consider it one of the great achievements of my life if by putting this song into the world, I am helping to tell these women’s stories and inspire more people to rise up and help win the fight against ALS.”
ALS is frequently associated with men like Gehrig, the major league baseballer diagnosed with the progressive neurodegenerative disease; renowned scientist Stephen Hawking; SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg; and Sesame Street creator Jon Stone. But the rare disease — which the CDC reports affects upwards of 15,000 people in the U.S. — also impacted the life of Broadway and theater producer Jenifer Estess, who was diagnosed in 1997 at 35 and died at 40 in 2003 after founding Project ALS.
“As a young producer, she had dreamed of changing the world through art. When she was diagnosed, she dreamed another dream — and ‘produced’ Project ALS,” says Valerie Estess, Jenifer Estess’ sister. “Her vision for Project ALS was to run medical research like an artistic or business endeavor, complete with effective fundraising and deadlines for doctors. For 20 years, the entertainment community and Project ALS have walked toward this dream boldly, hand in hand, and we’re finally glimpsing the skyline of promising ALS therapies.”
The piece, for which the video offers an emotionally touching accompaniment, came together during the pandemic — after Kitt learned of Luker’s diagnosis in February 2020 and Burstein’s severe COVID-19 case a couple of months later.
“I immediately reached out to him to see how he was and to ask if he and Rebecca would consider collaborating with me on a song for the album,” Kitt says. “I asked him to send me in written form anything that they would want to express, and then I would go away and create something to present to them. The beautiful poem that they sent me would go on to become our song.”
Featured on his debut album Reflect, which was released by Sony Masterworks this past August, “She Has Hope” came together during the pandemic.
Kitt says that while recording it, Luker and Burstein both noted “its drive,” with Kitt telling THR that the use of acoustic guitar — “a romantic and evocative instrument,” he says — helped underscore its messages “about the power of love, commitment and devotion.” Meanwhile, its instrumentation, rooted in a chamber and folk tonality, offers the listener both warmth and propulsion, helping convey that one can still find strength and resilience in “even in the most difficult and unimaginable of circumstances,” according to Kitt.
“One of the choices I made early on is that the very end of the song would be a musical prayer, led by a rolling, melodic piano figure, which was written to specifically evoke the artistry and brilliance of Rebecca,” the co-writer explained. “And to show that Rebecca’s spirit is always with us, the song would not have a definitive ending but instead, incorporate a fadeout that, in my mind, is still playing.”
Estess tells THR, “This song is brilliant because it’s about hope — it also provides hope. If Rebecca had hope, we can have it. If Jenifer had hope, same here. The song says we must be brave enough to hope, even if medicine doesn’t come in time for us. Hope fuels Project ALS research to generate new drug strategies. Hope fuels a better future for this and next generations.”
Both the song and the video — which features footage provided by Project ALS of women diagnosed with ALS alongside their families and various loved ones — serve not just as a memory of Luker and other women. For Kitt, it’s one way to potentially bring increased awareness to the disease and the research to treat and cure it.
“I believe that this song has the power to make a difference to so many while showing that art can heal and enlighten us,” Kitt says. “And if this song resonates in a way that raises awareness to help fight this disease, what a gift that would be.”
Estess says that Luker’s work through both the video and the organization has led directly to scientific advancement. “Like most powerful art, ‘She Has Hope’ is a family effort,” she says. “When Rebecca was diagnosed with ALS, she, Danny, Tom, Brian, Sony and the entire entertainment community joined with Project ALS to speed research. We did it; she led us. Thanks to Rebecca, Project ALS pushed a promising new ALS drug candidate called prosetin to clinical trial.”
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