Cancer claims musical theater's Laurie Beechman
Native Philadelphian Laurie Beechman had a great big voice, and an equally
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
"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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