Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, with some music by Leonard Bernstein
Maria Friedman is working hard: in less than a year she has performed in Notes from New York, A Swell Party, The Great British Songbook, and her solo show Re-arranged which opened at the Menier Theatre and transferred to the Trafalgar Studios - and that is not even a complete list. Sounds like a lot? Yes, but her latest concert Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim is certain proof that you cannot get too much of a good thing.
It kicked off with a laugh before even the first note had been played - house lights down, accompanists take their places, the stage is black, all is still, bathed in darkness, anticipation is mounting and then comes a voice from the gloom - "A little light on our music would be lovely". A humorous start proved fitting for an evening of top class performances and much laughter.
Light being provided, Friedman entered and launched into a group of songs from Passion. To call it a medley would be like calling Send In The Clowns a jingle. In a BTG interview last year she described this setting as "a huge, long piece of exquisite music". It is, but it is more than that because the re-working also has its own narrative, and the whole was delivered with a sincerity and depth that you only get with great interpreters of lyrics.
A lighter side was on view with numbers like You Could Drive A Person Crazy and The Story of Lucy and Jessie, whilst The Worst Pies In London was an hilarious act two opener with some sparky ad-libbing. All told the combination of new and familiar, longer settings, individual songs and 'comic turns' was emotionally balanced, satisfying and extremely effective as a vehicle for Friedman to show us what she's got especially when it comes to being "passionate as hell".
Accompanying Ms Friedman were the excellent Jason Carr on piano and James Potter on cello: understated and supportive when reflecting calm mellifluous moments of tenderness, they also sharply underscored passion and pain making it all the more emotive and penetrating. I can still hear echoes of the cello piece joining Finishing The Hat with We Do Not Belong Together, the pizzicato heart-beat of In Buddy's Eyes and the fervent crescendo of Losing My Mind. Talk about spine-tingling!
I suppose if one was going to be picky one could say that the selection of songs was not truly representative of Sondheim's work because - with the exception of I Remember from Evening Primrose (a teleplay by James Goldman for which Stephen Sondheim wrote the songs) - all the pieces are from his stage work with none of his original film work represented.
Personally I am not that picky. Although there are songs worthy of an airing amongst the film scores, what has been included in the show is arguably more interesting. The selection spans a 50 year period covering the transition from I Must be Dreaming - written in 1948 and heard on the radio for the first time by its overwhelmed 19 year old composer from under the kitchen table - to 2008's Road Show represented by Isn't He Something.
Friedman is natural and unaffected - she hits the odd duff note, is the first to laugh when she makes a mistake, which she does, and her expression of emotion is almost brazen. With Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim she has ownership and is on home ground; she and Sondheim, who are personal friends, worked closely together whilst devising the show and her openness reinforces the sense that what you get is Freidman herself, no disguises - singing from the heart.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti