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If you've been in extreme circumstances- it doesn't have to be cancer, it can be the death of a spouse, AIDS, anything- and you've been lucky enough to survive, it's incumbent on you to live the best possible life. What's the point otherwise?

-Laurie Beechman, as quoted in The Washington Post, 1996


Laurie Beechman: A Star To Be

Whether she wins a Tony Award on Sunday or not, Laurie Beechman is a future star of the American musical stage.

After all, she was the original A Star To Be in ''Annie'' -- as well as playing four other roles in that show -- and sings ''NYC'' on the ''Annie'' cast album.

Now she is a star in all but lights as the Narrator in ''Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,'' pushing, pulling and prodding the audience and cast through the Broadway show. She sings solo or is featured in 10 songs, and hers is the most heard voice on the cast album.

For her high-vitality work in fez and harem pants in ''Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'' she received a Tony nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical. She has formidable opposition in the category from three co-stars of the musical ''Nine:'' Karen Akers, Liliane Montevecchi and Anita Morris. But Laurie -- there's no way you can think of her as Miss Beechman with her big eyes, big smile, and big voice -- could benefit from a split vote from ''Nine'' supporters. The Tony (Antoinette Perry) Awards will be broadcast live from the Imperial Theater on Broadway Sunday by CBS, 9-11 p.m.

Whatever the outcome, Laurie's immediate future is assured.

She already has been picked to star in another Broadway musical, ''Firebelle,'' tentatively set to open in San Francisco this fall and on Broadway early next year. Laurie will play the world's first woman firefighter, Lillie Hitchcock Coit. She also had a call for an audition for the Broadway production of ''Cats,'' the London hit by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, composer of ''Joseph.''

''I think my career is and always will be deeply rooted in Broadway musicals,'' Laurie, 28, said in a recent interview.

''I don't know if I have a movie face, and I haven't done anything on TV yet.''

But she is interested in nightclub work -- ''I've been doing nightclubs for years. I sang 'New York State of Mind' before Billy Joel and Barbra Streisand.'' Last year she cut her first record, ''Laurie and the Sighs.'' She also was seen in the movie of ''Hair,'' in frizzy wig and hot pants in the number ''Black Boys -- White Boys.''

While playing ''Joseph'' she tried out a new nightclub act at O'Neals' Times Square, dashing there from the Royale Theater after the show for an 11 p.m. performance.

''I felt like I was a person for the first time,'' she said of the act. ''Before I'd always felt I had to be someone else. I feel more confident now. I feel I really could do something interesting. The songs are a big reflection of how I'm feeling about myself.''

Laurie comes from Westmont, N.J. Her parents and both sisters sing, but she is the first to make a professional career of it.

Laurie was a scholarship student in the acting program of the New York University School of the Arts. ''Annie'' was her first Broadway role. She was 23.

''After I auditioned for 'Annie,' (lyricist) Martin Charnin wanted me in the show,'' she recalled, ''but didn't know for what role. By the time I got to the Goodspeed (Opera House in East Haddam, Conn., where ''Annie'' originated) 'NYC' had been written for the Star To Be, and I got to sing it.''

The show went to Broadway and was a big hit -- it's still running five years later -- but Laurie's five roles plus walk-ons weren't exactly what she wanted.

''For a while I called myself The Star Who Might Have Been,'' she laughed.

When she started in ''The Pirates of Penzance,'' she said, ''I sang in a booth to augment the ensemble.'' She also was chorus ''swing,'' taking over whenever any of the regular girls took sick.

''Then they put me in the show -- and three months later I was in 'Dreamcoat.'

''I got a call from the casting director for the part of the Narrator, and there was a six-foot black guy up for the same role. They'd always cast a black man for the role before, to contrast with the blond Joseph. But I'm dark and short and (director) Tony Tanner said, 'You're it.'

''For two weeks I was performing in 'Pirates' and rehearsing 'Dreamcoat'.''

When ''Dreamcoat'' opened, Laurie suddenly was a hot property.

''The week 'Dreamcoat' opened I got a call for an audition for 'Cats'.''

''I now have to make a decision about 'Firebelle.' I have the option of staying with 'Dreamcoat'.'' And she still doesn't have an agent.

Laurie is single -- ''I've never been anything else'' -- loves New York, water sports and old movies (''I Love Bette Davis and Mary Astor and Katharine Hepburn''), restores antique furniture, paints and does needlework.

As the interview in her dressing room ended, she was off to Sardi's for an early spaghetti dinner before the evening performance of ''Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.'' She still was wearing a shocking pink jump suit.

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