The Laurie Beechman Website
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As the new year began, I remember thinking, 'I feel great. Life is wonderful. Wouldn't it be great to be in love?' Then in March 1992 a friend invited me to New York City for Neil's birthday party. . . we'd been friends for 10 years. I hadn't seen him for a while and at his party, we fell in love. It was an enchanted courtship. We got married in October and (took a) honeymoon in Paris. . .

-Laurie Beechman, People Magazine 1995

 

DIVA TALK: Remembering Laurie Beechman

LAURIE BEECHMAN

The theatre and cabaret worlds lost one of its most talented performers this past week when Laurie Beechman lost her decade-long battle with ovarian cancer. Beechman will probably be best remembered for her work in two of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, where she performed the role of the Narrator and received a Tony nomination for her work; and Cats, where she succeeded Betty Buckley in the role of Grizabella, the faded Glamour Cat. Beechman possessed a voice that seemed to originate from deep in her soul, evoking both the joys and pains of life. She had one of the strongest belt voices around, but she could also create delicate, softer sounds that moved listeners just as profoundly.

I had the good fortune to see Beechman perform live on a number of occasions, and the first time was actually one of my very first Broadway experiences, the Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin hit Annie. I believe I was nine or ten at the time, but I do remember this one woman who appeared as different characters throughout the show and had a great trumpet of a voice that she used during her solo in "N.Y.C." That woman was Laurie Beechman; years later, I read that the composers had actually beefed up her solo when they realized what a wonderfully powerful voice she had.

It was about five or six years later when I saw Beechman again, and this was during the Broadway stint of her Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat run. As far as I am concerned, no one who has portrayed the Narrator has sung the role better, and the Beechman cast recording remains a pure joy. Listen to her beautiful tones in the show's prologue or the full force of her belt in "Pharaoh's Story," and you will hear what I mean. After Joseph it was almost a decade before I had the pleasure of seeing her perform live again, and this performance was in a cabaret setting at the now-defunct The Ballroom. Beechman was joined onstage in this act by two men she had worked with in Les Miserables, and it was clear she relished having the support of these back-up singers. Beechman delivered a high-energy act that encompassed songs from the Broadway and pop worlds, and I remember most her exciting version of "How Can I Be Sure," which had her belting to the top of her range, and it was thrilling. For an encore, she treated the packed audience to her stirring rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," which I was particularly happy to hear because I had missed her portrayal of Fantine in both the Philadelphia and Broadway productions of Les Miserables.

In 1991 Cats celebrated its ninth anniversary on Broadway, and I was able to attend the special performance that featured Beechman as Grizabella, and she was nothing less than spectacular in the role. I hadn't seen the show since it first previewed on Broadway in 1982, and I was surprised how moved I was by her performance. Her voice soared in the theatre as she sang the now-famous lines, "Touch me, it's so easy to leave me. All alone with my memory of my days in the sun. . ." And, her final note on "Look a new day has begun" was delivered in a soft head tone that was beautifully ethereal. Around this time, I saw Beechman again in a concert setting at the 92nd Street Y, where she performed an all-Jule Styne evening that boasted songs from both Gypsy and Funny Girl. It was a particular treat to hear her dramatic versions of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "The Music That Makes Me Dance."

It's hard to believe that it was just a few months ago that I saw Beechman for the final time in the record-breaking performance of Cats when it surpassed A Chorus Line to become Broadway's longest-running musical ever. Looking back, I'm very happy that Beechman was able to be a part of this history-making event, for it will keep her in the record books throughout time, and, on a more selfish note, it gave me one last chance to see her in action. It was clear that she was having some vocal difficulty at that performance, but Beechman managed to overcome any minor problems and delivered a touching version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber anthem.

Thankfully, Beechman recorded a handful of albums in the past few years (Listen to My Heart, Time Between the Time, The Andrew Lloyd Webber Album and No One Is Alone), and her many fans will be able to comfort themselves with the works she left behind. I think my favorite solo recording of hers would have to be Listen to My Heart, which featured composer David Friedman on piano and Beechman singing many of her trademark tunes--wonderful versions of "Memory" and "I Dreamed a Dream"--as well as heartfelt renditions of Friedman's "Listen to My Heart," "What I Was Dreamin' Of" and "I'll Be Here with You."

Beechman will be remembered not only for her musical talents but also as a courageous woman who spoke about her fight with cancer in an effort to explain that it is possible to live with the disease as she did for a decade. Thank you, Laurie, for all you have given to the theatre and to the world. You will be missed.

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