It's often said that Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley "invented" the kind of high belting common in musicals today. That is certainly true, considering the altitude of notes they sang full voice in shows like 1776, The Baker's Wife, Evita and Cats. Of course, this kind of late 20th-century pop approach to theatre songs must also trace its roots a few years farther back to Barbra Streisand. But in terms of the type of rock 'n roll wailing emulated in shows like Rent and Wicked, I think the earliest common vocal ancestor is the late, great Laurie Beechman.
Beechman didn't exactly sing in an unadorned, natural voice. While no one could deny Beechman's God-given talent, she had some mannerisms and a nasal placement to accommodate a sort of pop quality. This afforded her the ability to belt out a wide range of notes with a great deal of passion and intensity. I think this is part of what Andrew Lloyd Webber was referring to in her first solo album's liner notes, when he praised her "sheer guts." Whatever Beechman sang, she sang with abandon, and this was thrillingly channeled into expressions of both pain and joy. Beechman's untimely death, due to ovarian cancer at age 44, surely robbed the world of decades of great work, but she nonetheless leaves behind a legacy of recordings worthy of celebration.
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