A passionate voice in Twin Cities performing arts has been silenced by the coronavirus pandemic.
William Randall Beard, a playwright and freelance critic who wrote about classical music, theater and opera for the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, among others, died April 17 at HCMC. He was 64.
A devout Lutheran, Beard had a battery of longstanding health issues, including lupus and congestive heart failure.
Just over a decade ago, "he had a terrible fall at Orchestra Hall — literally down several flights of stairs — and tore tons of ligaments and required 19 leg operations," said playwright Daniel Pinkerton, Beard's 40-year friend and onetime roommate. "He could never quite walk right again. So he couldn't get the kind of exercise he needed."
After contracting COVID-19 the first week of April, he was taken to the hospital where he suffered a rapid decline, Pinkerton said.
Beard is best known for "Beyond the Rainbow: Garland at Carnegie Hall," his bio play-with-music that orbits Judy Garland's 1961 comeback. History Theatre artistic director Ron Peluso commissioned it in 2003 and it premiered in 2005.
"Rainbow" has had over a dozen professional productions across the country and has been revived several times at the History Theatre with Jody Briskey playing the title role.
"Randy's concept of Judy performing her Carnegie Hall concert while weaving memories of her life in and around the songs was an exhilaratingly exhausting roller-coaster ride," said Briskey, who played Garland in 13 productions from 2005 to 2019. "He had my character hit the stage at the top of the show and never leave until the end, singing the songs Judy loved to perform while reliving moments from her life."
Beard once told Briskey that he didn't know all that much about Garland when he started but "as he learned more he grew to admire her ability to overcome the many hurdles life threw at her."
The show remained a work-in-progress.
"Last year we tore it apart and expanded it, adding new songs and replacing old ones," Peluso said. "It was mostly just the two of us. I would go over to Randy's house and he would say, 'Sit down, Ron,' and I said, 'Where?' There's stuff all over the place — papers, books, records. But he was a delight, a sweet man with a big heart and laugh who was always fun to work with."
An only child, Beard was born Oct. 9, 1956, in Hackensack, N.J., to Hope Margaret Waine Beard and William Dods Beard, whose Army career included working in supply lines in Europe. Beard spent part of his childhood in Germany before his father was transferred to the Midwest to run the ROTC program at the University of Minnesota.
That assignment coincided with the Vietnam War when "people were throwing rocks through the living room window," Pinkerton said.
After graduating from Richfield High School, Beard attended Gustavus Adolphus College where he studied with noted theater Prof. Robert Gardner.
Post college, he was a support staff supervisor at the Hennepin County Library while continuing to work in performing arts. From 2000 to 2003, he served as literary manager for Park Square Theatre, where, in 2011, artistic director Richard Cook directed his adaptation of "The Odyssey."
Peluso said that Beard was a good listener who appreciated the collaborative nature of theater.
"He was open to ideas from anybody, whether a cast member, a lighting designer or me," Peluso said.
Their last big rewrite was around a song that Beard had included in "Rainbow."
" 'Swanee River' always brought the house down," Peluso said.
Beard married computer consultant Bruce Lively in 2011, a year before same-sex marriage was legalized in Minnesota. Lively died of a heart attack in January 2012 at 47. Beard's parents also preceded him in death.
He is survived by five cousins, according to Pinkerton.
Beard was active in the St. Paul Reformation Lutheran Church, which is planning a memorial eucharist after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.