Maria Friedman is unequivocally showbiz royalty, and during her illustrious long-standing career the three-time Olivier Award-winner has been fortunate to have worked with some of the top entertainment industry trailblazers, including the late, great composers Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch and Michel Legrand.
Friedman collaborated with, and was chummy, with all three composers, and in her brand new show Maria Friedman & Friends – Legacy, Freidman pays tribute to their brilliance. She was especially close to Sondheim who was godfather to her son Toby, and mentor to her younger son, Alfie.
Barefoot, and dressed in a simple black dress, there is absolutely nothing pretentious about Maria Friedman. She is a born communicator, and in Maria Friedman & Friends – Legacy, this earthy leading lady does what she does best, and tells stories through song. At the opening of the show she states “with a composer like Sondheim you are in safe hands” and the secret with his work “is to go into the lyric.”
She proves the point with her nuanced performance of the opening number of Sunday in the Park with George, and despite myself being very au fait with the song, I discovered new lyrical understanding with her latest interpretation.
Friedman’s voice no longer hits the higher notes but it’s maturity embraces her experiences and it brings new layers to her work.
She is an actress who sings, and with ‘A little Priest’ she revels in the malevolent mischief of Mrs Lovett and captures a disarranged fragility in ‘Losing my Mind’.
Maria Friedman and Friends also ensures the legacy of its chosen composers lives on by showcasing new talent to perform their work.
Two outstanding moments of the evening came from a stunning ensemble presentation of Sunday by the Royal Academy of Music Choir, and Friedman’s 19 year old son Alfie stopped the show with an intricately acted-through execution of Franklin Shepard, Inc. I was sat next to Alfie Friedman’s father Oleg Poupko who told me that his son learnt this remarkably complex song in just four hours.
Throughout the evening there are some lovely anecdotes. Memorable stories include one of Sondheim personally giving first night cards for Merrily We Roll Along to each cast member, and telling each one they are the ‘best one in the show.’
A classic ‘the show must go on’ tale, concerned Hamlisch who was only primarily concerned with Maria’s singing ability despite the fact she had cancer and a broken leg.
Maria Friedman & Friends – Legacy does not always hit the mark. It is a little uneven and despite being a fine platform for Sondheim, it seems to skim through the other two composers, especially Legrand.
Running at two and half hours, it’s a little long. There is a lot of chat, a lot. So much so it occasionally borders on self-indulgence. Indeed sometimes the evening feels like a runaway train that director David Badbani has lost control of.
Thankfully the boundless energy and precision of musical director and pianist, Theo Jamieson manages to keeps the show at least musically on the track.
Friedman and Friends has been extended 17 April due to popular demand.