It’s taken a while for the Hippodrome’s spanking new cabaret room to feel lived-in and alive and it’s taken a real artist – actually two real artists – to capitalise on its intimacy and generate a buzz. Not many are given to putting together a truly organic programme for a continuous one-act set – something which sets up a lively and varied emotional narrative and is expressly designed so that the songs impact on each other in interesting and amazing ways. But then there aren’t too many Maria Friedmans or Jason Carrs around and in creating their Lenny/Steve, Bernstein/Sondheim, confection they teased and cajoled, amused and moved, and most of all “told stories” that drew us in and made us listen to even the most familiar numbers with renewed interest.
Jason Carr’s “Overture” spirited us wickedly from Bernstein’s Candide to a myriad spin-offs; his piano arrangements often promised one song and delivered an entirely other; and sometimes he was capriciously alluding to the melody of one song in the accompaniment of another. It kept this aficionado on his toes and raised more smiles and quizzical expressions than any cabaret I’ve heard in a very long while. Mr Carr is also a fabulous pianist – in big numbers it’s like having a reincarnated Rachmaninov in the room winding down from his latest concert tour.
Maria Friedman is a compelling actress who happens to sing. Not a word of text passes her or us by; we know why she’s singing as opposed to speaking and we know where each song is taking us and why. No wonder Sondheim’s crazy about her. Her musicality is unfailing and when she ratchets up the intensity in the conveyance of anger, despair, ecstasy, she makes you believe she has far more voice than is actually the case. That husky vibrating sound and the sheer length of her pay-off notes take you, and her, to the edge. She’s not one for compromise. Her “lovelorn” sequence – beginning with the coy and cosy musical sighs of “A Little Bit in Love”, moving into the lie that is “In Buddy’s Eyes” and the heartache of “I Have a Love” – was a musical drama in itself. As was “Losing My Mind” (literally before our very eyes) and Chris Walker’s arrangement of “Somewhere” whose thrilling modulations kept us guessing where that might be.
And have you ever seen one artist attempt all the parts of “Gee, Officer Krupke”, switching hats, glasses, wig, and voices with mounting hysteria. You have now. Catch her last performances and check out the Matcham Room at the Hippodrome.
You might also like to listen to Maria Friedman talking to Edward Seckerson – Podcast concerning her 2010 album release “Maria Friedman Celebrates the Great British Songbook“