The Laurie Beechman Website
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I know it sounds trite, but I'm more connected to my feelings. After all, over the past few years, I've had an in-your-face existence. There's less artifice in what I do and I can bring myself to the work more totally--not as an escape--but as an affirmation of being alive!

-Laurie Beechman, as quoted in TheaterWeek, 1995

 
Trouper's last battle
Cancer claims musical theater's Laurie Beechman


Native Philadelphian Laurie Beechman had a great big voice, and an equally big heart.

After battling ovarian cancer for nine years, the 44-year-old veteran of the musical theater -- who made her Broadway debut as "Star to Be" in the original cast of "Annie" in 1977, and went on to become the longest-running Grizabella in Broadway's longest-running hit, "Cats," -- died Sunday, ending a career that extended far beyond her local roots.

"She would have been a star anywhere she was, Philadelphia or New York or London," said Bernard Havard, producing artistic director of the Walnut Street Theater, a venue where Beechman performed on numerous occasions. "She's a testament to the fact that God gives talent on a per-capita basis.

"She was an extraordinary performer and entertainer who just lit up the stage and had a wonderful rapport with the audience."

"Right now, there's just a great gap in our hearts," Havard added. "She was dedicated, highly disciplined and truly loved what she did. She was a joy to work with and she will be sadly missed."

Beechman's last appearance on the Walnut stage was last March during a benefit concert for Doug Wing, an actor and friend who had also been stricken with cancer. Wing died last year.

In 1990, Beechman had starred as Wing's daughter, her first non-singing role, in the Walnut Street production of the comedy "Show-Off."

"The concert for Doug is my most inspiring memory of her," Havard said. "I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. It was an example of great courage."

Beechman's life was full of such pluck. Her first major success on Broadway came in 1981 when she won the role of the Narrator in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

She was the first woman to play the part, and it earned her Tony and Drama Desk nominations for best featured actress in a musical.

In 1983, Beechman became Grizabella in the first touring company of "Cats." Four months later, after the departure of Betty Buckley, she stepped into the role on Broadway. She continued to bring down the house with her emotive rendition of "Memory" until 1988.

A year later, despite her cancer, she joined the national touring company of "Les Miserables" in the role of Fantine, as well as the touring company of "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Sunset Edition."

Last April, Beechman was the honoree at the Walnut's annual gala. The theater awarded her its Edward Forrest Award for Life Achievement. It is likely that she will be paid tribute at this year's event, which is set for April 4.
"I think she had an indomitable spirit. Her feelings and emotions were bigger than her physical self," said Havard. "I never heard her once complain and she was battling this disease for nine years.

"She never was self-pitying. She just charged ahead like she could just push this thing aside. There was a major spirit inside that person that was very, very strong."

Sam Bushman, a family friend and local press agent who worked with the actress on various projects, agreed.

"I know she suffered a lot with the cancer, but you'd never know how much she suffered when she was on stage.

"She was just wonderful."



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