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For me it's important that I look beautiful so people can say, 'If that's cancer, it's not so terrible.' I want to show them that you don't have to be in remission to be alive.

-Laurie Beechman as quoted in The New York Times, 4/28/96

 

New England Showcase


By night she's Boston's favorite feline attraction, playing the lead of Grizabella in the smash musical ''Cats.'' By day, most people don't recognize her without her cat makeup. But not for long, now that Laurie Beechman has opened her own nightclub act.

The real Miss Beechman is quite different from the ragged, tattered, worn out old cat she plays in ''Cats.'' With a pixie-like grin, a bubbly bright-eyed enthusiasm and a down to earth kind of amazement over her successes, she seems more like a high school cheerleader or the girl next door.

There is an air of excitement that seems to follow the 29-year-old singer around. She's excited about releasing her first record, ''After the Fall,'' in April; she's excited about starring in ''Cats,'' her first real dramatic stage role; and she's particularly excited about developing her new solo act.

Miss Beechman got her start nine years ago when she landed her first equity job doing ''Annie'' at the Goodspeed Opera House in New York City. She later went to Broadway with the original company. She had a small role in Broadway's ''The Pirates of Penzance.''

But her big break came when she won the part of the narrator in the Broadway production of ''Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,'' which won her a Theater World award and nominations for a Tony and a Drama Desk award.

''When I did 'Joseph' that was very important to my career, but it wasn't a dramatic role the way Grizabella is. Grizabella was the firt time I've ever gotten to play a touching kind of heart-rendering character. This is a woman who actually has a name. When I was in 'Annie,'' I was the 'star to be' and when I was in 'Joseph' I was the narrator. Now I'm Grizabella.

'''Cats' is very contemporary and the song I sing in the show ('Memory') is so incredibly powerful. It's probably the best thing I've sung in a show. I don't want to negate anything else I've done, but this is now, so it's the most important,'' she says.

Miss Beechman received critical accalaim for her rendition of ''Memory,'' which she sings twice in each performance. But despite a challenging role in a hit musical, she still feel the need to try other artistic endeavors.

''The show gets out late and you're all charged up and you don't want to go home. I can just wash my face and my hair, take off my cat makeup and put on my person makeup and be ready to go.

''The strange thing is that people don't recognize you when you're in this show ... and now they will. We walk out all the time and people are waiting for us to come out, but they look right past us when we finally come out,'' she laughed.

''Moonlighting is not new to me. I did it in 'Joseph.' I played six nights a week at a club in New York. It's just a natural thing for me to do. I like to sing whenever possible and I also get to sing other things besides 'Memory.' It's good for me to be out there playing and experimenting and it's really great that I have the chance to play another town besides New York.''

Her act, ''Laurie Beechman, Live in Concert,'' is a late night series starting at 11 p.m. each Friday and Saturday through March 31 at the Bradford Cabaret Theater (around the corner from where ''Cats'' is playing). The show includes Broadway numbers ''Annie,'' ''Cats,'' and ''Little Shop of Horrors,'' plus several popular tunes.

Miss Beechman was born in Philadelphia but was raised in south New Jersey. As a kid she knew she wanted to be a singer and began taking voice lessons at age 13.

''I've had a lot of good things happen to me. I've worked very hard just to keep things rolling and keep it going. It takes a lot of courage sometimes. Everyone who has aspirations to be in show business thinks they want to be a star. They don't want to be an actress until they really start to do it and get a grip and feel that love for it,'' she says.

''I haven't had an overnight success, it's been really gradual which is good for someone like me because if things had happened to me when I was 23 and I thought I was really ready for success, I could have blown it and gotten into some bad scenes. You are really vulnerable when you're younger. Think about (John) Belushi and the big heroes of our time and we don't have them anymore.

''Singing is like learning about life. You're given the gift of life and you learn to get through it. When you sing it's like having a gift ... you learn what to do with it, how to make it honest and how to make it do what you want it to do,'' she says.

And Laurie Beechman has learned well. Her deep. richly textured, full-bodied voice has caused a lot of people to sit up and take notice of this petite wonder. Even Barbra Streisand commented on ''what a pair of pipes'' she had after hearing her in ''Annie.''

''I just want to please people and get better and my craft and just be thrilled that people respond to me. I'm calmer as I get older and have more confidence. I don't feel as threatened by certain things or people.

''As time goes on and you see how you are consistently working on really wonderful productions which only seem to get more spectacular. You start to feel like it's happening.''



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