Life should be in technicolour; it is erratic, vibrant, and unpredictable… not unlike the little-less-than-perfect vegetable ranges; delicious, unique and rough around the edges. It is this exact message that means this show can only be awarded a five star rating. The imperfections of the performance serve to enhance its message so, just in case anyone needed more proof than the two Oliviers awarded to Maria Friedman, she has yet found another way to stump the critic. The critical eye that hungers for the deduction of that one star is the entire reason it deserves the full five as, whilst it is not seamless, that is entirely the point!
Friedman is refreshingly uncontrived yet conventionally charming in her portrayal of what real life is. Alongside Theo Jamieson, this performance demonstrates the refined craftsmanship of musical sensitivity in such a way that creates a musical autobiography of Friedman’s esteemed career. Interspersed with comic anecdotes and tales of friends and family, this performance becomes a delightful and intimate insight into such an elite performer. As Friedman so rightly articulates, music has an unfathomable power to define the undefinable and salvage the unsalvageable which, in a contemporary period of such division and instability, calls for a waking up to the expression that music offers us. Such music, for Friedman, comprises of those artists and composers that significantly impacted her own life – Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Michel Legrand and Adam Guettel.
I expected Friedman’s performance to be outstanding. It is, therefore, not entirely unfair to say that the first half an hour proves disappointing. It is clear, however, that this was the result of a voice not yet functioning at its full potential as, with the development of the performance, I ceased awkwardly preparing for the high belts and began to submit to the undeniable power, technique and intensity of such a sophisticated and experienced voice. What makes Maria stand out is the depth of her performance. A showcase lends itself to a mismatching of songs and themes yet Maria makes each song so compelling in its narrative that you believe you are watching the entire show unfold over a matter of minutes; each song completely envelopes the audience. Whilst it is unnecessary to comment on her character range as her dexterity is well established, it is nonetheless awestriking to watch the likes of Papa Can You Hear Me alongside Worst Pies in London. These conflicting styles are done just as expertly as the other culminating in the explosion that is Sondheim’s Getting Married Today – a song that, if there were to be an ‘impossible to sing’ award, would certainly earn itself a nomination as you literally have to be the equivalent of a split personality, operatic, pneumatic drill and, as such, I think every jaw needed scraping off the floor upon the completion of Friedman’s perfect rendition (her own jaw very much being included in this).
By using the music of such rousing and hauntingly melancholic artists the intensity of this performance is so palpable that, at times, you feel like you can physically shave the atmosphere with Sweeney’s blade. Each story and every emotion is unrelenting, and each laugh just as much. It is difficult to find the words to express the feel goodness that this evening inspires and how utterly dumbfounded you are left witnessing the marvel that is Maria Friedman and her breathtakingly talented team. The violinist Darius Luke Thompson deserves particular mention, firmly establishing himself as the one, true fiddler on the roof – simply outstanding!
Beyond her musical talent, Friedman remains captivatingly comedic and grounded in the true meaning of why and what she is performing. Her heart is on the stage and we are all there with her because sometimes imperfection from a perfect voice and a stellar performer is far more interesting and endearing than a flawless one.