As the audience enters the auditorium of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, a single spotlight shines down from the ceiling highlighting a single microphone stand. The dust and atmosphere drift like smoke up into the rafters; it’s an iconic image – like moonlight in a forest. Then Maria Friedman enters from stage left and a marvellous evening of entertainment begins as the star of stage, screen and cabaret delights the audience with her wit, charm, show business anecdotes and most importantly, her fabulous, rich singing voice.
This brand-new show is called Maria Friedman: From The Heart and it certainly is just that. After welcoming the audience, her first song is Lennon & McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” which she’s sings because she’s been moved by the number of homeless and “lonely people” she’s seen on her way to the South Bank, Accompanied by the marvellous Theo Jamieson on piano, she sings a song I’ve never heard of which I think is called “I’m Here” and sounds like the predecessor of Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here”. Ms Friedman then proceeds to tell a wonderful story about the funeral of Marvin Hamlisch and she sings two of his songs from A Chorus Line: “Nothing” and “At The Ballet”. There’s also a very funny anecdote about a trip on Queen Mary II that went a little awry and she has the audience in the palm of her hand whether she is singing, talking or just having a drink of water.
There are also songs from “Yentl” and of course Stephen Sondheim (lots of Sondheim) including a moving rendition of “Children Will Listen” from Into The Woods. Then there’s the highlight of the first half, a performance of what is probably Sondheim’s trickiest song, the tongue-twisting “Getting Married Today” from Company which Friedman sang faster than a Usain Bolt world record. The half ends with the poignant “So Pretty” an anti-Vietnam war song that Leonard Bernstein wrote with lyrics by Betty Condem and Adolph Green for a 1968 Broadway For Peace concert.
The second half began with a member of the audience being brought up on stage as Ms Friedman in an apron and wielding a rolling pin, gave us her best Mrs Lovett singing the hysterical “Worst Pies In London” from Sweeney Todd whilst offering the man from row D, a pie and pint of beer!
Moving away from musical theatre, Ms Friedman sang the delightful Suzanne Vega song “Tom’s Diner”, in the middle of which came the sound of a flugelhorn and as if by magic, from out of the darkness came a musician playing the intro to Brian Wilson’s majestic “God Only Knows” along with another musician on double-bass and the two songs are woven seamlessly together – pure musical magic.
Then a violin player comes on and plays the theme from Fiddler On The Roof whilst Ms Friedman leaves the stage for a costume change. Returning in a long, black sparkling gown, she duets with Robert Maskell in “Do You Love Me” from the Harnick and Bock musical in which Ms Friedman recently starred as Golde at The Playhouse Theatre. There’s also an almost obligatory version of “Send In The Clowns” that brought a tear to the eye as did “Losing My Mind” from Follies and to prove Ms Friedman knows how to pick a song, a wonderful performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.
After a wonderful performance of “Send In The Clowns” and a couple of songs from Yentl, Ms Friedman left the stage to a standing ovation. She had thrilled the audience with her charm, her warmth and the singing of some of the greatest songs of the past fifty years or so. Ms Friedman doesn’t just sing those song, she lives and breathes them – she is not only a consummate singer but a superb actress who inhabits the lyrics of the songs she sings. And for someone who’s hearing isn’t what it used to be, her diction was so perfect that I could hear every word of every song.
She returned to the stage to a give us an hilarious version of “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story complete with quick-fire changes of wigs, hats, glasses, characters and accents – it’s a superb tour de force. Putting down all the props, she sang one more song before gliding off the stage arm in arm with pianist Jamieson to another standing ovation.
The last time I saw Ms Friedman live was a couple of years ago at the intimate 60-seater Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel. Last night at the 950-seater Queen Elizabeth Hall, Ms Friedman made the audience feel that intimacy again which is no mean feat.
Review by Alan Fitter
An unforgettable evening of timeless stories and truly exceptional cabaret from the West End star of Fiddler on the Roof and three-time Olivier Award winner.
In a thrilling collaboration with musical director Theo Jamieson (Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, High Society), Maria Friedman’s new show From the Heart celebrates some of the greatest songwriters and titans of Broadway.
Friedman explores the full range of her creative inspirations in a show that takes in Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch, Michel Legrand, Adam Guettel, Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman.
The pair bring their unique spin to great songs, musical theatre classics and some brand-new material for an evening of reimagining and reinvention.
Maria Friedman: From the Heart
Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sunday 10th November 2019