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

 
Laurie Beechman, Grizabella in 'Cats' for 5 Years, Dies at 44


Laurie Beechman, the throbbing-voiced singer and actress who played Grizabella in the Broadway musical "Cats" for more than five years, died on Sunday at her home in White Plains, N.Y. She was 44.

The cause was complications from ovarian cancer, said her agent and friend, Jim Wilhelm.

An emotive belter in the tradition of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, both of whom were her idols when she was growing up, Ms. Beechman brought a waifish pathos and a piercing vocal power to her character's signature song, "Memory."

Whether on Broadway, on a concert stage or in a cabaret, Ms. Beechman conveyed a strong involvement with her material, delivering the climaxes of big ballads with a full-throated, sobbing intensity.

Ms. Beechman was born in Philadelphia, attended New York University and made her Broadway debut in 1977 in the ensemble of "Annie," in which she played five roles, most notably a Depression-era character named Sophie the Kettle. After "Annie" came a bit part in "The Pirates of Penzance."

Venturing into the pop arena, she made an album, "Laurie and the Sighs" (Atlantic), that presented her as a rock belter in the mode of Pat Benatar. When the album sold poorly, she decided to stick to the worlds of theater and cabaret and returned to Broadway as the narrator in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Her performance in that show won her Tony and Drama Desk nominations for best featured actress in a musical.

In 1983 she took the role of Grizabella in the national touring company of "Cats" with the proviso that she step into the part on Broadway when Betty Buckley departed. The chance came four months later, and Ms. Beechman remained in the cast for more than five years.

In the late 1980s and 90s, Ms. Beechman became a cabaret and concert performer with high-energy shows that often blended popular standards and theater songs with light rock-and-roll. She also recorded four more albums.

Ovarian cancer was diagnosed in 1989. Despite her illness, she joined the national touring company of "Les Miserables" in the role of Fantine, performing in the touring production of "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Sunset Edition," and singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" at President Clinton's 1997 inaugural gala. Last spring she rejoined "Cats" in time to be playing Grizabella when the show surpassed "A Chorus Line" as Broadway's longest-running hit.

She is survived by her husband, Neil Mazzella; her parents, Dr. Nathan and Dolly Beechman Schnall of Philadelphia, and two sisters, Jane Segal and Claudia Cohen, both of Philadelphia. A funeral will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at J. Levine and Sons Memorial Chapel, 7112 North Broad Street, Philadelphia.

Ms. Beechman went public with her illness three years after her diagnosis and became a role model for people with cancer. "The perception people have of cancer," she told The New York Times, "is that you're cured or you die, and that's not necessarily how it works. It can be more like diabetes, a part of life."

Tuesday, March 10, 1998

Copyright 1998 The New York Times

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