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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Menier Chocolate Factory

By Matt Wolf

  Maria Friedman/PH:Alastair Muir

The solo cabaret - always a beleaguered art form in London - gets a welcome shot in the arm with Maria Friedman: Re-arranged, the three-time Olivier Award winning actress-singer's first sustained run in her home city since successfully beating back the cancer that befell Friedman when she was on Broadway several winters ago in The Woman In White. Actually, solo isn't quite the right description to affix to a two hour-plus show, directed by the Menier's producer, David Babani, that finds Friedman backed up by a crackerjack 11-person band, two of whom, Chris Walker and Michael Haslam, double as the evening's musical directors. Friedman completists, of whom I am one, may wish for slightly more novelty than is apparent from a selection of songs (more than 20), quite a few of which have featured in her various entertainments up to this point: I'll never forget first hearing her do Michel Legrand's Le Trombone, with its gathering intensity followed by its sudden, almost shocking halt. That song, among others, is back, and one welcomes it like an old friend. And if there's no doubt that the voice now is a lot breathier than it previously was, that fact itself doubtless has various medical explanations the joy is that she's here once again, her enthusiasm and powers of connection undimmed.

The occasional loss in vocal power notwithstanding, there's no disputing Friedman's sincerity and commitment as a performer, which in themselves are worth far more than the evident diminution in (perhaps surprisingly) her softest register. And when she lets rip, an adoring audience is there with her every step of the way, charting a lineup that itself ranges freely from the inevitable (Stephen Sondheim) to a few choices (Suzanne Vega, Randy Newman) that may seem somewhat out of left field. Newman is repped twice over with the lesser-known (Dayton, Ohio 1903) and that satiric standard-bearer, Short People, which finds Friedman prowling the aisles of the Menier in search of any Lilliputians among us: On opening night, she rather amusingly came up, well, short. Lest offense be taken, she goes on to announce the actual intent of so seemingly un-PC a song, though one has to wonder whether there's anyone at this late date who doesn't know that tune's actual import.

Friedman was London's first Dot (opposite Philip Quast) in Sunday In the Park With George, directed by the late Steven Pimlott at the National Theatre nearly two decades ago, so she comes naturally by a song sequence drolly entitled Sunday In the Park With Dot - the moniker itself a gesture of thespian narcissism in which Friedman cheerfully and frankly indulges. (If only she'd ventured musically into the second act of that show.) Marry Me A Little gives audiences an early burst of the performer in belter-Sondheim mode, and she goes on to start the second act by yanking up a colleague of her sister (producer Sonia Friedman)for a rollicking Worst Pies In London that reminds one yet again how humorless a Mrs Lovett Helena Bonham Carter cut in the recent, severely disappointing film of Sweeney Todd. Broadway Baby - which Friedman has been savoring as long as I've been hearing her - is saved for one of several encores, though an accompanying song list to the show lists Dividing Day from The Light in the Piazza as one of the few numbers that in fact went unperformed, at least at her opening night show.

If Friedman were at all affected, which she isn't, the ceaseless tributes to the genius" of her various arrangers and her onstage band - not to mention the love etc of her family in evidence in the house this particular night - might begin to pall, and th


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