DIVA TALK: It's Turkey-Lurkey Time

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26 Nov 1998

As we head into the holiday weekend, here are just a few diva items. Enjoy. . .

As we head into the holiday weekend, here are just a few diva items. Enjoy. . .

I was very disappointed to learn over the weekend that the upcoming concert in honor of the late Laurie Beechman had been canceled. Boasting a stellar list of performers, the evening promised to be a wonderful tribute to the star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Les Misérables and Cats. Earlier this week I spoke briefly with one of the producers of the event, Tony Swanick, who was extremely dismayed by the events leading up to the concert's cancellation. Swanick suggested that those who have already purchased tickets should send for a refund by mailing their tickets to the Walnut Street Theatre (be sure to keep a copy of the tickets). In a letter posted on the Laurie Beechman memorial website, Swanick also had this to say:

Dear Friends,
I am sad to inform you that due to a number of scheduling and theatre problems, the Laurie Beechman Tribute Concert, scheduled for November 30th has to be postponed. No reschedule date has been set. I apologize to those who graciously agreed to appear in this event that this decision had to be made, but circumstances beyond our control forced us to this conclusion. My thanks to Ray McLeod, Melissa Hart, Davis Gaines, Lisa Kain Marcelli, Christine Andreas, Allen Hidalgo, Sean McDermott, Grant Prickett, Mary Testa, Douglas Sills, Christiane Noll, Robert Evan, Christine Fraelich, Dan Schiff, Stephanie Pope, Angie Schworer, Michael Tucci, Brad Little, Dodie Pettit, Kevin Gray, Melanie Kaiser, Claudia Beechman and the Philadelphia companies of The Phantom of the Opera, Anything Goes, Chicago and the cast of Romance, Romance. You are all so gifted and gracious.

For those of you who have been supportive, I thank you from the bottom of my aching heart for the good feelings you have brought to this event. I want to apologize to all of you who have so looked forward to attending this event.

Refunds on ticket sales can be made by calling the Walnut Street Theatre at (215) 574-3550. I encourage you to keep Laurie's fighting and loving spirit in your heart and souls as you move through your own lives. Do what you can to keep that spirit alive.

To those at the Walnut Street Theatre who have been so helpful, I thank you. I know you were all excited about the show happening in your home theatre as were we. I hope that you have continued success with Anything Goes and throughout the rest of your wonderful schedule.

To my boss and my friend for nearly two decades, Congressman Fox, thank you for your commitment to this project and innumerable thankless tasks you have undertaken when you did not have to do so. Your good will and big heart are legendary and have been an inspiration to me throughout the years. You are one of the finest human beings I have ever known. I want to thank the Beechman Bunch for all their hard work and dedication. I know that this postponement is devastating to each of them -- Jack, Gayle, Pati, Bill, Grant and Faith. The best part of this is the friendship we have developed among ourselves. I love them all very much and will miss working with them.

To the family and friends of Laurie Beechman, know that my devotion to this wonderful woman has not faltered and my respect for Gilda's Club and their staff knows no limits. The battle against cancer is one we must wage every day in every way and I hope you will continue to do so. I loved Laurie Beechman's spirit and will continue to do all I can to ensure that she is honored appropriately at some time. Still, there are times when, despite the best intentions of all involved, plans must be changed. Thank you my friends, it has been a fun ride -- albeit a bumpy one at times. Please stay in touch and keep a song in your heart. Peace, Tony Swanick."

There is a terrific new book available entitled It Happened On Broadway: An Oral History of the Great White Way By. Written by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer, the informative tome includes interviews with over 100 Broadway stars, including Carol Channing, Donna McKechnie, Gwen Verdon, Linda Lavin and Betty Buckley. Now available from Harcourt Brace and Company, the hardcover book costs $35. Below are a few quotes from some of the divas who speak candidly in It Happened on Broadway that I thought you would enjoy:

Leslie Uggams about her start in show business:
"I started in the business when I was nine years old, working with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo. I'd stand in the wings and watch these incredible performers. As a teenager I was a contestant on the television show 'Name That Tune.' They coupled me with a butcher, and we went on to win twenty-five thousand dollars. I was asked what I liked to do. 'Sing,' I said. They asked me to sing, and I did 'He Got the Whole World in His Hands.' Mitch Miller discovered me and put me in his show. I was the only black on national television at that time."

Judy Kaye describing the first time she went on for Madeline Kahn in On the Twentieth Century:
"March 6, 1978, a few weeks after we opened, I spent the morning watching a Carole Lombard film. Then, about one o'clock I went to my gym, which was the same street as the St. James Theater. After my workout, I went to call my service. But there was this big line of ladies in their towels, all dripping wet, waiting to use the phone. Well, I'm sure there won't be any messages, I thought, and instead of waiting I walked across the street to a Belgian café, where I had a piece of fish, a lovely salad and even a glass of white wine -- something I would normally never do, but I thought, as I didn't have a note to sing in the entire show, what difference did it make?
Then I strolled over to the theater, opened the stage door, and there was the entire cast draped around the foyer, yelling at me, 'You're going on!'
They took me up to Madeline's star dressing room and started trying her clothes on me. Everything was a little short, but it fit. They put the blond wig on me. I'd never seen myself in a blond wig before. I didn't own a pair of eyelashes, because Agnes [the role Kaye played], the maid, did not wear eyelashes. Luckily, however, I had had the forethought to buy my own shoes. . .At the curtain call, I was presented with two dozen long-stemmed yellow roses. [Director] Hal [Prince]'s movie version of A Little Night Music opened that night, and he had to be there. But everyone else connected with the show was standing in the back. It was a unanimous leaping ovation."

Gwen Verdon discusses Bob Fosse:
". . .as soon as we began working together in Damn Yankees, I realized he was unique. The first night we rehearsed, Bob did the entire choreography for 'Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.' I think that was record-breaking time. When he showed it to me, I was so nervous, but I thought, Dance is dance. I'll try to do it exactly like him -- although it seemed quite amazing to do the scene and the dance as the same character.
The movement of the first chorus was very simple, although by 'simple' I don't mean easy to do. Bob told me exactly what to do, down to the second joint of my little finger. He was absolutely specific about every single detail. When I finished the part of the dance where I have to go back into singing, he even choreographed how I would push my hair back off my face. There was not a movement left to me alone. I think that distinguished Fosse. With the exception of Jack Cole, I don't know another choreographer who worked in such great detail."

Donna McKechnie on keeping legacies alive:
"It's important for me to pass on Michael [Bennett]'s legacy, Bob [Fosse]'s legacy: the way you act in class, behave in a show; the basics that a lot of kids don't have. And it's so important for me to keep the legacy of the great women I've known and worked with. If not for Gwen [Verdon], I would not have a career. I needed someone to inspire me besides Betty Grable- whom I always thought I should be, only I was born too late."

Betty Buckley: "I may love working in London, but I'm a Broadway baby. I want it to happen here because this is my home. More than anything else, I want to be on a Broadway stage."
Elaine Stritch: "Broadway, Manhattan is our town, our town."
Carol Channing: "How often in your life does a part come along where you have these wonderful songs and these wonderful things to say? I could do Dolly!, every day of my life until I die."


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