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Lately, I find I'm using what is happening in my life and in the world. I read the newspapers a lot. Unfortunately, you don't have to reach that far to get to the despair in this world, and also to the hope that is always there, too. I kind of do the song now like a prayer.

-Laurie Beechman, about singing "Memory", as quoted in The New York Times, 1985

 

The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent 12 March 1998

A Technicolor Life
Beechman was a gifted entertainer, a gifted human being


Memories...

In the file of memories I've collected over the years, musing on and marveling at the prodigiously talented Laurie Beechman, I'm ever mindful of a woman who could listen to my heart.

Not just mine, but the hearts of many who came into contact with this Philadelphia native who performed as if the beats of her songs were the echoes of the soul.

Whether it was on Broadway playing the nine lives out of Grizabella in "Cats"- and making "Memory" so memorable- or as the narrator with the elfin elixir of a smile in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,"  Beechman lived a truly technicolor life.

That that life also was shaded in the dark and somber hues of pain and sorrow only made her performances more complex and compelling.

When Laurie died Sunday at the age of 44 after a nine-year bout with cancer- and it was a bout, a blistering battle with gloves off and game face on- the acclaimed and accomplished actress/ entertainer who once sang for her supper in her dad's Walnut Street restaurant, Gino's, left with her championship belt intact- a voice graced by God and amplified by lungs that considered the rafters as friends.

Laurie Beechman, who was raised in Westmont, N.J., was a throwback to the old Broadway belters and, at 5 feet 3 inches, she seemed octaves taller.

In a 1985 interview, Laurie regaled me with the music that played through her life; they were the sweet suites composed of family and friendship.

"I guess I try my best to have a successful existence, to sort out the good people from the bad, to not judge people," she said.

Others lauded her on Broadway; locally at the Walnut Street Theatre, where her cabaret acts made an intimate club out of a large house; at the Rainbow Room club in New York; or even a hip and hot appearance on "The Charles Grodin Show."

With it all, she tried to triumph over a disease that was as damaging as her talent was healing.  Once forced from the stage to recuperate, she returned with the added patina of a trained trouper.

Laurie knew different sorrow than that experienced by Fantine, the heroine she portrayed in "Les Miserables."  But she also knew of greater joy.

Role playing

Of all her roles, she never cherished playing the victim.

"If everybody is praying for me like they said they would, well, I should be fabulous," she said.

It didn't work out that way, but what did work was her many warm relationships with those in and outside the business.

"The most important thing to me is to have a nice home, see my family." she said.

She had it all: a blessed five-year marriage to Neil Mazzella; a wonderful relationship with her always supportive and loving mother, Dolly Beechman Schnall; great times with her late dad, Gene, and stepfather, Dr. Nathan Schnall; and fun frolics with oh-so-close siblings Jane Beechman Segal and Claudia Beechman Cohen.  She is also survived by two step-sisters, Ilene Schnall-Vogelbach and Rona Schnall, and nephews and a niece.

It's not every entertainer who's willing to share the spotlight with a family member- especially when the spotlight is flooding a bimah-turned-stage.  But Laurie was proud to do just that when she invited Claudia to join her for a number at Beth Shalom Congregation.

"Wasn't she just great?" said a wowed Laurie of Claudia after the 1996 concert.

With all the huzzahs and halos Laurie earned as a performer, the young woman who once rocked and rolled along the Wildwood boardwalk as a member of a band called Destiny Trio and the Contagious ultimately thought her destiny was in playing life's sweet notes for as long as she could.

"I just want to be a noble human being," she dole me.

And she got her wish, ennobling those who knew and heard her stage a truly technicolor dream of a life.



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