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The Theatreguide.London Review

Maria Friedman - Re-arranged
Menier Chocolate Factory Spring 2008; Trafalgar Studios Winter 2008

West End musical star Maria Friedman is appearing in concert at the Menier for two months, and those who know her from such shows as The Witches of Eastwick, The Woman in White, Passion and Ragtime will find much to enjoy.

Backed by an 11-piece orchestra, Friedman sings about 20 songs chosen, as she explains, as much for the beautiful and inventive arrangements she's discovered or commissioned as for the songs themselves.

Friedman is a superb musical actress, so it is little surprise that she is at her best with the most dramatic and emotion-charged songs.

She is able to inject fresh beauty into Jacques Brel's chestnut 'If You Go Away' and draws all the subtle tragedy from the lesser-known 'I Won't Mind' by Jeff Blumenkrantz, Anne Kessler and Libbie Saines.

High points of the evening are the numbers that close each half, a dramatically structured medley from Sondheim's Sunday In The Park With George and a full-throttle take-no-prisoners 'Somewhere' from West Side Story.

On the other hand, the lighter and more comic songs tend to escape her. Sondheim's 'Worst Pies in London' is a loss, and she misses the anger in his 'Lucy and Jessie' or the ironies in 'Marry Me A Little.'

Her versatility shows in other ways as, without losing her own voice, she is able to master songs that evoke other styles and singers.

She makes Jules Styne's 'If You Hadn't' sound like Liza singing Kander and Ebb, reinvents Sondheim's 'Broadway Baby' by using a breathy, little-girl Marilyn voice, and movingly channels Edith Piaf in Brel's 'Play The Song Again.'

While she makes a big deal about the arrangements, they're rarely especially noticeable (which may be a compliment), though 'You Are My Sunshine' is grossly overproduced and it is the simplest backings, as for Irving Berlin's 'Lost In His Arms', that are most effective.

(The one purely instrumental interlude, a jazzy Sweeney Todd suite arranged by Jason Carr, is very clever and swinging.)

Fans of Maria Friedman will find much to enjoy and perhaps a few discoveries in this entertaining couple of hours.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Maria Friedman - Menier 2008