Maria Friedman: From the Heart - a ★★★★ celebration of musical theatre!

☆★★★★ Maria Friedman: From the Heart

Maria Friedman’s cabaret, From the Heart, has grown from an intimate show at the Crazy Coqs with an audience of 80 or so and arrives at Queen Elizabeth Hall with an audience of over 900. That’s quite an exceptional growth trajectory. Whether this still counts as cabaret is doubtful, and concert may be more appropriate? With a stage simply set with a single spotlight focussed on a single stool, Maria Friedman strode on stage and her captivating, joyous personality filled the room. And this was an audience in her thrall.

With musical director Theo Jamieson and a wonderful black grand piano, Friedman chatted easily, telling stories and gossiping with some wonderfully indiscrete name drops. She told the story of a party for Cameron Mackintosh where she sang Not Getting Married from Company. And managed to go wrong. Stephen Sondheim was in the audience and ended up with his head in his hands. Suffice to say, last night's rendition was perfect!

From the Heart celebrates some of the greatest songwriters of the West End and Broadway, most of whom Friedman has known and worked with over her career - often identified by the composers as the leading exponent of their work. Marvin Hamlisch even specified in his will that she should perform songs at his memorial. Hence last night it was special to hear Nothing and At The Ballet from A Chorus Line, both seldom performed.

Friedman is an exemplar of Sondheim and last night we were treated to many of his greatest works, in particular Losing My Mind from Follies and Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music. Quintessential, timeless Sondheim at its best! We were also regaled with her Mrs Lovett from Sweeny Todd where Steve – not Sondheim - was plucked from the audience and subjected to beer and a pie – vegetarian, vegan assured!

Friedman’s often eclectic repertoire included music by Joni Mitchell, The Beach Boys, Leonard Bernstein, Comden and Green, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Last night’s concert was not without event. And to be quite honest, Friedman, by her own admission, had some issues - particularly lighting and some stage management. But she was a trooper and particularly made me smile as she took a sip of water and sighed how much she was looking forward to a real drink at the end! One could feel her frustration but her performance was, in spite of all this, a celebration of some musical theatre classics by a unique, often sublime and totally inspirational artist and talent. And let’s not forget the well-deserved standing ovation too!