After months of planning, and amid a sea of bad feelings, a memorial concert to honor the late Laurie Beechman, set to play Nov. 30 at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, has been canceled. The Walnut Street box office confirmed the cancellation (Nov. 23) but did not say the reason for the reversal.
Rep. Jon D. Fox (R-PA), who represents Beechman's section of Pennsylvania, was organizing the event, and Gilda's Club, a nonprofit organization which aids people with cancer, was to benefit from the concert. "It was postponed due to conflicts with the theatre," said Tony Swanick, Fox's spokesman. "Because those conflicts were not resolved in a timely manner, we had to shut down production."
The nature of the "conflicts" and when and with whom they originated are difficult to ascertain. Fox's office says the theatre canceled the event, while the theatre asserts Gilda's Club canceled the event. What's certain is the parties involved, including Fox's office, the Walnut Street Theatre and Gilda's Club, has ceased communication. Also certain is that the Walnut Street issued a press release on Nov. 19 -- 10 days before the benefit was to occur -- stating the concert has been "postponed to a later date" and quoting Joanna Bull, founder and executive director of Gilda's Club as saying "We have rescheduled this event for the spring of 1999."
That release was dated that same day as a letter sent by Bull to Walnut Street's general manager Mark D. Sylvester, in which Bull wrote: "As a result of your report to me that the family of Laurie Beechman is withdrawing its support of the November 30 Laurie Beechman Memorial Concert...and that the Walnut Street Theatre does not believe the event to be viable and itself wishes to postpone the concert...I am requesting that you terminate [our] rental agreement." The letter went on to ask for the return of a $1,500 deposit, as well as mentioning the Beechman's family's intention to reschedule the concert in May 1999.
However, a Nov. 20 letter from Sylvester to Bull seemed to refute Bull's contention that Sylvester's communication of the Beechmans' withdrawal of support had prompted the cancellation. "You made the decision to cancel the event," wrote Sylvester. In addition, Sylvester qualified the involvement of the Beechmans in the postponement. "I told you that a member of the Beechman family (Steve Siegel) shared our concerns... I did not petition the entire family for their opinion and suggested that you speak directly with Steve Siegal." Sylvester also quoted Bull as saying "we should reschedule the event for a future date with no involvement from [Tony] Swanick."
Sylvester told Playbill On-Line that he was faxed a cancellation notion from Bull on Nov. 19 at 3:30 PM and did not issue the press release until after he received it. He also said that the parties involved had expressed many reservations over the way the concert was being organized. "The reservations had to do with everything from A to Z," he said, "It was overwhelming." He added that he had never spoken to any of the stars due to appear at the Walnut Street. "I have no proof that anything that was ever said to me was true," he said.
Bull has declined to speak on the matter. Steve Siegal was unavailable for comment.
Among the stars set to appear at the benefit were Sam Harris (The Life ), Karen Mason (Sunset Boulevard ), Davis Gaines (Phantom ), Betty Buckley (Gypsy ), Andrea McArdle (Les Miserables, Cats ), Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel), Robert Evan (Jekyll & Hyde), Linda Eder (Jekyll & Hyde), Christiane Noll (Jekyll & Hyde), Christine Andreas and Laurie's sister Claudia Beechman.
Beechman starred in such Broadway productions as Cats and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and died of ovarian cancer Mar. 8, 1998 at age 43. Proceeds from the concert will benefit Gilda's Club, an organization which offers help to cancer victims.
The concert was to have been recorded for release as a CD.
-- By Robert Simonson