DIVA TALK: Laurie Beechman Remembered in New Film; Elegies Songs Plus NEWS of Buckley & Myers

DIVA TALK: Laurie Beechman Remembered in New Film; Elegies Songs Plus NEWS of Buckley & Myers A new documentary about the life of the late singer-actress Laurie Beechman will debut March 31 at the Directors Guild in New York City.
Laurie Beechman
Laurie Beechman (Photo by Paul Greco)

Anyone who ever heard Laurie pour out her heart in such theatre anthems as "Memory" or "I Dreamed a Dream" never forgot the experience of listening to that voice that seemed to go in the ear and move directly to one's heart. Beechman, in fact, possessed a voice that originated from deep in her soul, evoking both the joys and pains of life. She had one of the strongest belts around, but she could also create delicate, softer sounds that moved listeners just as profoundly. Thankfully, Beechman's legacy will be remembered in a new 50-minute documentary produced and directed by Gaylen Ross. Entitled "Listen to Her Heart: The Life and Music of Laurie Beechman," the film will premiere at a by-invitation-only screening March 31 at the Directors Guild in New York City.

The documentary boasts narration by a long-time champion of Beechman's work, former talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell, and was spearheaded and executive-produced by Neil Mazzella, Beechman's widower. I recently spoke with Mazzella, president of scenery fabrication company Hudson Scenic Studio Inc., who explained the genesis of the film: "When Laurie passed away and I was going through all of her personal effects, I had an enormous number of videos. Not knowing what to do with them, I called Gaylen Ross, a friend of mine, and I said, 'Listen, if we go through this, get rid of the duplicates [and] get the quality stuff, let's put together a documentary on the best [material]. Then, Gaylen had the idea [to] get people to comment on [the clips]...We got up quite a list of people that were willing to come in. We set up video time at the West Bank Cafe, and we made a real documentary out of it. It's been two years in the making." The stellar list of celebrities who remember their late friend includes composers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Menken; directors Richard Jay-Alexander and Trevor Nunn; producer Cameron Mackintosh; actors Andrea McArdle, Loni Ackerman, Mary Testa and Sam Harris; musical director/composer David Friedman; agent Jim Wilhelm; and the co founder of Gilda’s Club, Joanna Bull. The tribute also includes heartfelt discussions with Mazzella as well as Laurie's mother, Dolly Beechman Schnall, and Laurie’s sisters, Claudia Beechman and Jane Beechman Segal.

In addition to the commentary from some of the theatre's finest, the documentary boasts some of Beechman's show-stopping vocal moments. Producer Ross explained to me earlier in the week, "What we tried to do is find highlights from her Broadway career but also not eliminate the cabaret part of her life, which was so important. We, of course, have 'You'll Never Walk Alone,' which was the closing number she did for President Clinton's inaugural. That was one of her last performances in public — it was an amazing moment. And, we found some wonderful archival broadcast material. We have her singing 'Tomorrow,' which she never did sing in Annie, but she sang it on 'Merv Griffin.' This was in the '80s, and it was wonderful because he introduced it as 'the song she never sang but always wanted to sing.' And we have [original Annie] Andrea McArdle talking about it as [Laurie's] singing it...We tried to combine a lot of the history so there would be a context with each of these songs." Other vocal moments include Beechman's film debut in "Hair," singing "Black Boys"; her soaring renditions of "Memory" and "I Dreamed a Dream"; a clip from the Tony Awards broadcast featuring “Pharaoh’s Story” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Alan Menken's "Sailing On"; David Friedman's "Listen to My Heart"; a duet with Sam Harris on "That's All"; as well as "The Music That Makes Me Dance," "Look to the Rainbow" and Stephen Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't."

Although the documentary may eventually find its way to PBS or Bravo, Mazzella said the purpose of the film is to "inspire and support a whole new generation of people that are benefiting from the generosity of [Laurie's] family and friends." Mazzella explained that Laurie's memory has been honored by several friends and family members, including three musical scholarships, one theatre, a sound and design studio and donations to various charities. The goal of the documentary, said Mazzella, "is that this becomes a library piece, so that when students go and get scholarships at three different universities in Laurie’s name, they can go and look at this documentary and find out who Laurie Beechman was, so that they have something to measure their own careers with." Ross adds, "I think we would love to ultimately [broadcast the piece on television]. This is just the first stage. We’re delighted to finish and have the number of interviewees and the stature of them [plus] Rosie doing the narration."

When asked how he thought his late wife would have felt about the film, Mazzella paused and said, "I don't know. It’s hard to say. I thought about that question. There’s one point in the documentary where one of the [actors] bring up the point that in conversation with Laurie . . . [she said that] she never wanted to be forgotten, dismissed. I don't think she was . . . [and] now we have some visual footage to remember her by." For Mazzella, the documentary also provides some sort of closure. He explained, "It's been five years [sine Laurie's death]. And I think this is now the closure that I guess I needed, not that there's real closure in anything like this, particularly with a woman like Laurie Beechman. But it will help me to move on because [I] will have done everything I think that I needed to do to properly have this woman’s talent and spirit — which is even better than her talent — be remembered.” (In addition to cast recordings for such musicals as Annie and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Laurie Beechman can also be heard on four thrilling solo recordings: "Listen to My Heart," "Time Between the Time," "The Andrew Lloyd Webber Album" and "No One Is Alone.")

ELEGIES: A SONG CYCLE
Can't wait to see Betty Buckley and Carolee Carmello this weekend in William Finn's new song cycle, Elegies, which plays the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre through March 30. Thought you’d be interested to see the song list from the new musical production. Titles follow:

“Looking Up Quintet” (Company)
“Mister Choi & Madame G” (Keith Byron Kirk with Carolee Carmello & Christian Borle”
“Mark’s All-Male Thanksgiving” (Michael Rupert)
“Only One” (Betty Buckley)
“Joe Papp” (Keith Byron Kirk & Men)
“Peggy Hewitt & Mysty del Giorno” (Borle, Carmello & Men)
“Passover” (Carmello)
“Infinite Joy” (Buckley)
“The Ballad of Jack Eric Williams (and other 3-named composers)” (Rupert)
“Fred” (Borle)
“Dear Reader” (Buckley & Carmello)
“Monica & Mark” (Borle, Kirk, Rupert)
“Anytime (I Am There)” (Carmello)
“Venice” (Rupert)
“14 Dwight Ave., Natick, Massachusetts” (Borle & Buckley)
“When the Earth Stopped Turning” (Borle)
“Goodbye” (Kirk)
“Boom Boom” (Carmello & Men)
“Looking Up” (Buckley)
“Goodbye” Finale (Company)

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Congratulations to Betty Buckley, Karen Mason and KT Sullivan, who were all nominated for 2003 MAC Awards for Major Female Vocalist. The annual awards presentation will be held April 14 at Symphony Space. Colette Hawley and Jay Rogers will co-host the 7:30 PM presentation, which salutes achievements in cabaret, comedy and jazz. A lifetime achievement award will be presented to jazz pianist Barbara Carroll, and both composer Stephen Schwartz and chanteuse Mary Cleere Haran will receive Board of Directors of Awards. For a complete list of nominees, go to www.macnyc.com. . . . Pamela Myers, who starred in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, will release her debut solo recording next month. Entitled “The Chance to Sing,” Myers’ new CD features a host of composers who accompany Myers on their own material. Among the composers featured on the LML Music release are Stephen Schwartz, Joseph Thalken, Billy Goldenberg, Billy Barnes, Larry Grossman, Stephen Flaherty, Shelly Markham, John Kander and Charles Strouse. Song titles include “The Spark of Creation” (Stephen Schwartz), “The Chance to Sing” (Joseph Thalken/Tom Jones), “Actor” (Billy Goldenberg/Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee), “(I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair” (Billy Barnes), “Poor Sweet Baby” (Larry Grossman/Hal Hackady), “Our Children” (Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens), “Did I Do Something Wrong” (Shelly Markham/Judith Viorst), “And the World Goes Round” (John Kander/Fred Ebb), “I Want to Be With You” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams), “So My Husband and I Decided to Take a Car Trip to New England” (Shelly Markham/Judith Viorst), “I Wish You a Waltz” (Billy Goldenberg/Alan & Marilyn Bergman) and “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (Richard Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim). . . . Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday will offer an evening of love songs during her May 10 concert in Austin, Texas. Holliday will perform at Austin’s Paramount Theatre in a special one-night-only benefit performance for the Zachary Scott Theatre Center (ZACH). Backed by an eight-piece band, the former star of Dreamgirls will wrap her lush vocals around such tunes as “Always On My Mind,” “Come Sunday” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” as well as her signature tune, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Tickets for Holliday’s concert will go on sale March 17 and will be available by calling (512) 469-SHOW or by going on-line to www.startickets.com. . . .

REMINDERS Betty Buckley in Concert:

Through March 30 Elegies at Lincoln Center in NY, NY
May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

Liz Callaway in Concert:

May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA

Barbara Cook in Concert:

March 21 at the Flynn Center in Flynn, MI
March 28 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert:

March 27 at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the Ham Auditorium at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert

Through March 15 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City
April 12-13 at Center Stage—Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, CA
April 14-19 at Founder's Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN

Christiane Noll in Concert

April 5 Springfield, MA with Springfield Symphony
April 9 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
April 21 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!