The Laurie Beechman Website
  Remembering Laurie

Sure I get depressed. I would be crazy if I didn't. People ask me how I live with this. I used to think I was in denial. But I am optimistic. I have no other way to be. And there are miracles.

-Laurie Beechman, People Magazine 1995

DIVA TALK: A Memorial for Laurie

Playbill Online


On April 6, approximately 1,000 friends and fans of Laurie Hope Beechman piled into New York's Winter Garden Theatre to pay tribute to the star whose untimely passing on March 8 touched all those who had ever come in contact with Beechman, either as a person or a performer. The afternoon memorial, which was organized by Beechman's long-time friend and director Richard Jay-Alexander, was a beautiful tribute to the late star of Annie, The Pirates of Penzance, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats and Les Miserables.

As the lights of the Winter Garden dimmed, the voice of Academy Award winner Michael Douglas was heard over the speakers--a tape of the speech that he had delivered at President Clinton's second inaugural gala when introducing the evening's final performer, Laurie Beechman. The next voice heard was that of Beechman, also from the inaugural gala, who spoke about living with cancer and the optimism and hope that she never let falter. Beechman's beautifully moving rendition of "Shiver Me Timbers, " a track from her Listen To My Heart solo album was then played over the sound system, and the majesty of her voice was once again heard in the Winter Garden Theatre, the same theatre where she thrilled audiences for years as Grizabella, the faded Glamour Cat in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

The first onstage speaker was a visibly moved Mark Linn-Baker, a friend of Beechman who he said was "blessed with talent" and had "a voice that reached out and grabbed me at the heart." Joking that many in the audience had majored in theatre while minoring in "complaining," Linn-Baker explained that Beechman possessed a "triple major in theatre, courage and love" and had graduated with honors. Wardrobe supervisor Adelaide Laurino, who met Beechman 23 years ago while both were working on Annie, compared Laurie to a dose of fine brandy at an elegant party. Rich Affannatto, who performed the role of Marius in Les Miz when Beechman portrayed Fantine, read a letter from lyricist Tim Rice, who wrote, "I count myself lucky to have known Laurie." Richard Jay-Alexander read another poignant note, this one from a teacher in the South Bronx who explained how touched she was by Laurie's ongoing concern for her students.

Andrea McArdle, who appeared in both Annie and Les Miz with Beechman, spoke about hearing Beechman's wondrous voice for the first time. McArdle, who was 12 at the time, remembered, "After that, I would say, 'Barbra who?'" McArdle delivered a slowed-down, elegant version of "N.Y.C."--the song that first brought Beechman to the attention of Broadway audiences--and it was utterly moving. Laurie's friend and agent, Jim Wilhelm, spoke about his special relationship with Beechman, a relationship that grew in passion and depth through the years. Wilhelm discussed Beechman's courage and optimism during the decade she lived with cancer and explained that her performance at Clinton's inaugural gala was a special highlight for both him and Laurie. Even President Clinton whispered to Laurie after her powerful delivery of "You'll Never Walk Alone": "I am so proud of you for so many reasons tonight." Wilhelm ended his thoughtful words by adding, "Laurie's memory doesn't live again, it lives on." Despite his fear of public speaking, Ken Prymus, whose seven-year stint as Old Deuteronomy in Cats ended this week, spoke lovingly about Laurie. He
reminisced about their first meeting many years ago and the friendship and love that grew between the two performers. He concluded his tribute by reading a letter from Laurie's grade-school art teacher who said that Laurie, even as a child, was able to touch her life dramatically. Shubert Organization chairman Gerald Schoenfeld spoke briefly but insisted it was "simply irresistible not to be her friend, her employer and her advisor."

Fellow performer Sam Harris spoke from the deepest part of his heart about his "friend, teacher and musical soul mate." Harris explained that not too long ago he received a brand-new song from a young writer, a song that Laurie had asked him to sing over the phone to her one afternoon while both were in their respective dressing rooms. Laurie loved the song, especially its lyric, and asked if it would be alright if she also sang the song because she wanted to sing it to her husband Neil. Unfortunately, Laurie did not live long enough to sing the song to her husband, and Harris explained that he wanted to now sing that very song in order to honor Laurie's wish. Harris's soaring voice and heartfelt emotion brought tears not only to his own eyes but to most every member of the
audience as well.

A letter from composer Henry Krieger was then read, and Joanna Ball, one of the founders of Gilda's Club--a free support community for people with cancer and their families and friends--spoke about the courage and wonderful spirit that was a huge part of Laurie Beechman. Beechman's mother, Dolly Schnall, explained how she was blessed to have such a talented and beautiful daughter and spoke of Laurie's legacy of generosity to other people.

Composer Alan Menken apologized to the many singers he had worked with but had to admit that Beechman was his favorite singer. Menken reminisced about the wonderful times he, Beechman and their friends spent together when they were all just beginning to achieve some recognition and fame. He delivered two songs in her honor, "These Are the Good Times," from his musical with Tom Eyen, Kicks, and "If I Never Knew You," which he dedicated to both Laurie and her husband.

Flo Rothaker read a letter from President Clinton, and then Neil Mazzella,
Beechman's husband--who received a spontaneous standing ovation--spoke about his wife, explaining that she was his hero. Catherine Hickland read a letter from Gene Wilder (who also lost his wife, Gilda Radner, to cancer) that he had written to Neil. Brenda Pressley led the audience in prayer, and Loni Ackerman Kennedy discussed her glorious friendship with Beechman.

The memorial concluded with Ackerman leading a chorus of singers (including Karen Mason, Jamie DeRoy, Sam Harris and others) performing one of Beechman and her husband's favorite songs, "I'll Be Seeing You," which Jimmy Durante had recorded on one of the couple's favorite albums. The chorus stopped just before the last few lines, and at this point, Laurie's image appeared in the moon that is part of the Cats set, and Jimmy Durante's voice was heard over the speakers singing, "I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you." It was truly a beautiful ceremony for a beautiful soul who will be greatly missed.

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