DIVA TALK: Remembering Laurie Beechman; Patti Gets Her Gun

DIVA TALK: Remembering Laurie Beechman; Patti Gets Her Gun 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.

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.

(For a beautiful tribute website to Laurie, go to http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/Stage/9990/index.html.)


BETTY BUCKLEY
Add Mar. 22 in Greeley, Colorado, to the ever-growing list of Betty Buckley concert appearances. Buckley will appear at the Union Colony Civic Center, and tickets may be purchased by calling (970) 356-5555.

And, a reminder that BB has been nominated for two MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Awards, one for Major Female Vocalist of the Year and the other for Major Artist Recording of the Year. The MAC Awards will be held on April 19 at the Manhattan Center's Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street. Call (212) 465-2662 for more information... Check the Betty Buckley website (on PBOL) for a complete list of concert appearances.

PATTI LuPONE
My mother has often recalled the time when there were actual showstoppers on Broadway, songs that so excited the audience that they would not let the show continue until the song was reprised. In fact, composers like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin often wrote several verses of a song so that an immediate reprise of certain songs was not only warranted but almost guaranteed. Although I feel that I have witnessed a multitude of thrilling moments in my theatre-going life as well as songs that have elicited lengthy ovations from the audience, I don't think I have ever seen a true showstopper, that is, until this past Sunday evening when I attended the one-night-only, sold-out staged reading of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun--but more about the showstopper later.

Originally a vehicle for the late belter-of-belters Ethel Merman, the role of Annie Oakley at this benefit for Lincoln Center's Music Theater program was portrayed by one of our reigning theatre stars, Patti LuPone, with her Pal Joey co-star Peter Gallagher as the love interest, Frank Butler. Although the musical runs into many book problems and a Native American subplot that is not quite politically correct, it is the incredible score that makes it such an enjoyable work. It's hard to believe that so many standards have come from one musical: "They Say It's Wonderful," "Doin' What Comes Naturally," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "I Got Lost In His Arms," "The Girl That I Marry," "Anything You Can Do" and more.

LuPone was in splendid form for this evening, looking youthfully Peter Pan-ish and dressed in a western jacket and skirt. It was a joy to watch her have so much fun onstage, clearly relishing all the laughs she drew from the enthusiastic audience. And what a thrill to hear her sing these Berlin gems; Gallagher's rich baritone was an unexpected bonus. I must admit that I was amazed that neither he nor LuPone referred to scripts during the performance. I was especially awed by the fact that LuPone is able to keep not only the script for The Old Neighborhood (in which she currently stars at the Booth Theatre) in her mind, but also all the lyrics and text to Annie Get Your Gun, plus the material for a two-hour concert that she gave last week in Pittsburgh.

For me the first highlight of the evening was LuPone's rendition of "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun." I had heard Andrea Martin perform the song at the recent Ethel Merman tribute, and as much as I love Martin and think she is one of the most gifted comediennes around, the song really needs a powerhouse voice to make it work, and LuPone's certainly qualifies. When she sang, "With a gun, with a guh-uhn, no you can't get a man with a gun," the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Other highlights of the first half included a beautiful duet between LuPone and Gallagher on "They Say It's Wonderful" and LuPone's "Moonshine Lullaby" delivered to her brother and sisters. Mention should also be made of Mary Testa's performance, who managed to extract every laugh possible from her role as Dolly Tate, Frank Butler's eager-to-please assistant.

The second half of the evening began with LuPone's lilting version of "I Got Lost in His Arms," and she followed that with a rousing "I Got the Sun in the Morning," which placed her centerstage standing atop a platform while surrounded by the dancing chorus. It was the next song, however, that was the most exciting of the evening, the aforementioned show stopper. A duet between Gallagher and LuPone, "An Old-Fashioned Wedding" employs a technique that Berlin also used in Call Me Madam. In "An Old-Fashioned Wedding"--written by a 78-year-old Berlin for the 1966 Lincoln Center revival with Merman--Gallagher and LuPone sing two different tunes at the same time, and the result is spine-tingling. LuPone confused a few lyrics during the first go-round, but the audience applause was so supportive that the two repeated the number. The crowd went wild again, and LuPone looked at Gallagher and then conductor Eric Stern with a smile that meant they should repeat the song again, and they did to an even wilder ovation. Another highlight of the second half was the comedic "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)," which also featured the two stars of the evening strutting their stuff. As Berlin put it himself, "There's no business like show business!"

* In other LuPone news, the Olivier-winning performer will appear on "Frasier" Mar. 17 and on the "Charlie Rose Show" Mar. 18. Also, LuPone is scheduled to perform at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts, on April 5. Tickets can be purchased by calling (978) 922 8500.

BERNADETTE PETERS
Bernadette Peters will make a rare metro NY area concert performance this weekend when she takes to the stage of the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. If you live in the area and have never seen the Tony winning performer in action, be sure to take advantage of this chance. Not only is Peters a superb interpreter of songs, but she's also a warm and humorous lady who is such a joy to spend an evening watching onstage. A loyal BP fan alerted me to a recent interview with Peters that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. I thought you would be interested to read some of Peters' remarks--made to Times staff writer Jan Herman-- about various theatre composers:

* about the songs of Stephen Sondheim:
"Steve writes a lot of layers to his music. You never get tired of singing his songs because there's always another layer, and he always writes about important things."

* about the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber:
"Andrew doesn't write the lyrics. His songs have less layers. He puts his passion in the music. He writes melodies that take you along with him."

* about the songs of Jerry Herman:
"Jerry is very concise, yet his songs have lots of depth. He goes right to the point; he's always meaningful; his songs are always so well-defined and full of feeling."

* about the songs of Irving Berlin:
"Irving Berlin writes conversational songs. The ones I sing always have that quality. There's an intimacy to them that I connect with. Singing a song is all about being in the moment."


REMINDERS:

DIXIE CARTER
Carter has returned to the cabaret stage of the Cafe Carlyle (Madison Avenue at 76th Street) ; reservations can be made by calling 212-744 1600.

KAREN MASON
This Saturday, Mar. 14, Karen Mason will appear in concert at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Reservations for that concert can be made by calling 914-698-0098. A radio appearance on the Stan Martin Show (WQEW-AM 1560 AM) follows on Mar. 16, and Mar. 20 brings Mason centerstage at Carnegie Hall. Entitled "The Broadway Songbook with Karen Mason," the evening will feature Mason performing with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops Orchestra. And, finally, on Mar. 29 Mason will sing with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus at Avery Fisher Hall in a tribute to George Gershwin.

DONNA MURPHY
The recent King and I star will portray Mary Todd Lincoln in a TNT production of The Day Lincoln Was Shot, which will air on that network on April 12.

ELAINE PAIGE
Paige begin previews in Moliere's The Misanthrope tonight, Mar. 13, with an official opening on Mar. 26 at London's Piccadilly Theatre. Tickets are available by calling 011-44-171-287-0464. . .On April 7 Paige will be one of the many stars celebrating Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th birthday through song at the Royal Albert Hall. . .On June 7 and 8 EP will take part in the charity concert Hey Mr. Producer, which will celebrate the work of another legendary Brit, producer Cameron Mackintosh. . . .And, Paige will appear in concert at the Hampton Court Palace Festival on June 19. Tickets may be purchased by calling 011-171-344-4444

BERNADETTE PETERS BP's concert schedule follows:
Mar. 14 New Brunswick, NJ at the NJ State Theatre
Mar. 15 Springfield, MA at Symphony Hall
Mar. 27 & 28 in Dayton, OH at the Dayton Convention Center

FRANCES RUFFELLE
On Mar. 16 at 9:30 p.m., Ruffelle is scheduled to perform a pop-flavored program at The Mercury Lounge, which is located at 217 E. Houston. Call 212-260-4700 for reservations.

JULIE WILSON
Julie Wilson is currently performing at Michael's Pub at 57 East 54th Street (between Madison and Park Avenues). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. There is a $20 music charge Tuesday-Saturday, $25 Friday and Saturday and a $15 food or drink minimum for all performances. Call 212-758-2272 or 212-355-0243 for reservations.

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

-- By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com