Maria Friedman: Lenny & Steve

| September 24, 2017

Maria Friedman

Lenny & Steve

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, September 19, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Maria Friedman

Three-time Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman brought the Feinstein’s/54 Below audience to its feet with her tribute to the songs of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. In a concert, a cabaret show, or musical theater, Friedman, a Swiss-born actress/singer from London, drives her songs with a fine actor’s awareness, building her show like a play and singing with strength, effervescence, and deep emotion.

Accompanied with vibrancy by musical director/pianist Jason Carr, Friedman is engaging and self-deprecating in her exploration of Bernstein and Sondheim’s songs and how they fit into her life.  Going on to salute this city she loves, she delivers Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green’s “New York, New York,” stalking the stage with the energy of this “helluva town” where “the Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.” She adds a pensive reverie from the same show (On the Town) with “Lonely Town,” and follows with the racing rhythm of Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” (Company) and its “city of strangers.”  These three songs paint a picture of this city with depth, humor, and melancholy.

Her voice is nuanced for the comedy of Sondheim’s tongue-twister “Getting Married Today,” and a satiny tone for “I Have a Love,” (Bernstein/Sondheim, West Side Story) and Sondheim’s “In Buddy’s Eyes.” 

She does not name the songs as she goes along, but shares snippets of her life. Already a singer, actor, and director, Friedman decides that she now wants be a writer and has a perfect topic she knows something about: love and loss. This leads to Bernstein/Comdon & Green’s comic, “One Hundred Easy Ways” (Wonderful Town). Less known by Bernstein/Comden & Green is “So Pretty,” written for Broadway for Peace 1968, a concert protesting the Vietnam War. A contemporary boost came from Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner’s “Take Care of This House (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) and Sondheim’s reminder that “Children Will Listen” (Into the Woods).

“Broadway Baby” (Follies) is a showstopper. Friedman’s character, a whispery theater wannabe, evokes empathy until the ending builds to a determination to strut her stuff “in a great big Broadway show!”

Remarkably, Friedman visibly sinks into her music, her voice weaving through emotions, carrying the song’s essence into the heart of her audience. She relates the heartbreak and passionate stories in Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” “Losing My Mind,”  and her closing song, “Somewhere” (Sondheim and Bernstein for West Side Story). Can she get better than this? 

For the encore, Friedman, a baseball cap plopped on her head, runs back for two Bernstein/Comden & Green theater hits: “Gee, Officer Krupke,” that had  the audience singing along; and “Some Other Time” (On the Town), “Just when the fun is starting/Comes the time for parting,” and its final line, “We’ll catch up some other time,” gives us something to anticipate.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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