Laurie Beechman, Grizabella in 'Cats' for
5 Years, Dies at 44
Laurie Beechman, the throbbing-voiced singer and actress who played
Grizabella in the Broadway musical "Cats" for more than five years,
died on Sunday at her home in White Plains, N.Y. She was 44.
The cause was complications from ovarian cancer, said her agent and
friend, Jim Wilhelm.
An emotive belter in the tradition of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand,
both of whom were her idols when she was growing up, Ms. Beechman brought
a waifish pathos and a piercing vocal power to her character's signature
Whether on Broadway, on a concert stage or in a cabaret, Ms. Beechman
conveyed a strong involvement with her material, delivering the climaxes
of big ballads with a full-throated, sobbing intensity.
Ms. Beechman was born in Philadelphia, attended New York University
and made her Broadway debut in 1977 in the ensemble of "Annie," in which
she played five roles, most notably a Depression-era character named
Sophie the Kettle. After "Annie" came a bit part in "The Pirates of
Venturing into the pop arena, she made an album, "Laurie and the Sighs"
(Atlantic), that presented her as a rock belter in the mode of Pat Benatar.
When the album sold poorly, she decided to stick to the worlds of theater
and cabaret and returned to Broadway as the narrator in "Joseph and
the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Her performance in that show won
her Tony and Drama Desk nominations for best featured actress in a musical.
In 1983 she took the role of Grizabella in the national touring company
of "Cats" with the proviso that she step into the part on Broadway when
Betty Buckley departed. The chance came four months later, and Ms. Beechman
remained in the cast for more than five years.
In the late 1980s and 90s, Ms. Beechman became a cabaret and concert
performer with high-energy shows that often blended popular standards
and theater songs with light rock-and-roll. She also recorded four more
Ovarian cancer was diagnosed in 1989. Despite her illness, she joined
the national touring company of "Les Miserables" in the role of Fantine,
performing in the touring production of "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber:
The Sunset Edition," and singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" at President
Clinton's 1997 inaugural gala. Last spring she rejoined "Cats" in time
to be playing Grizabella when the show surpassed "A Chorus Line" as
Broadway's longest-running hit.
She is survived by her husband, Neil Mazzella; her parents, Dr. Nathan
and Dolly Beechman Schnall of Philadelphia, and two sisters, Jane Segal
and Claudia Cohen, both of Philadelphia. A funeral will be held Wednesday
at 11 a.m. at J. Levine and Sons Memorial Chapel, 7112 North Broad Street,
Ms. Beechman went public with her illness three years after her diagnosis
and became a role model for people with cancer. "The perception people
have of cancer," she told The New York Times, "is that you're cured
or you die, and that's not necessarily how it works. It can be more
like diabetes, a part of life."
Tuesday, March 10, 1998
Copyright 1998 The New York Times
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