Home > Interviews > BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour April 2002
BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour 25 April 2002
Maria Friedman is a double Olivier Award winner who has garnered a reputation as the "thinking man's Elaine Page". In her new one-woman-show (produced by her sister Sonia), she performs songs by some of the great musical theatre composers. Martha talked to Maria about her passion for Sondheim and song.
MARTHA: It takes a real dramatic talent to convey a narrative from just one song. Here's a striking example of that, Maria Friedman sings 'Play That Song Again' - a spurned woman goes mad before our very ears.
SONG: 'Play That Song Again'.
MARTHA: Maria Friedman with that rather chilling song 'Play That Song Again', a tune by Jacques Brel and the lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. Maria, the star of many West End musicals, has been described as a hugely intelligent performer with a voice that could break your heart. She is now appearing in a one woman show at the New Ambassadors Theatre in London which includes that Jacques Brel piece, Maria, but how did you choose the other songs?
MARIA: Well I wanted to get a selection of songs which painted differnt stories, different pictures for people. I am obviously always lead by the musical content but at the same time, if the lyrics don't paint a picture - it's a like a tiny three act play all the songs I choose take you down on a little path into a differant world and hopefully one with which one connects with emotionally.
MARTHA: You are six months pregnant at the moment.
MARIA: Certainly am!
MARTHA: Does that effect your performance in anyway?
MARIA: Well on the technical side it is much harder to breath, just physically harder to breath.
MARTHA: I imagine a song like that must be fairly hard.
MARIA: Yes. People actually say they forget I'm pregnant - thank goodness! - after about the first song when I walk on, 'oh my goodness, she's pregnant', but for me it's just purely slightly harder work. But I did a show last time when I was pregnant with my son Toby who is now seven and it has become a tradition now really because ofcourse as an actress you don't get employed if you are pregnant.
MARIA: Well, no, not unless you're going to play a pregnant part - laughs - you're a bit limited so I tend to put these shows on but I was absolutely horrified this time to discover that having put about three months work into this show that was going to be at the Wyndham's (Theatre) for a month with a big orchestra and a set and everything and infact the man who did that orchestration Jason Carr who is on my show, brilliant pianist, and Simon Lee - they're both involved in it - I had to tell them the show is off becuase nobody would insure me, pregnant, and I was completely horrified by the fact that, its a perfectly healthy, pregnancy isn't an illness, most of time, obviously it can be very stressful, but the world would stop wouldn't it if all pregnant women where refused work, so I think, well, I'm doing it anyway - laughs.
MARTHA: How have you found balancing home and family with a career like yours?
MARIA: It is certianly very tricky and funny enough you asked about that, I got home last night after the show and my son woke me up at 3 o'clock this morning telling me that he had done, he didn't want to tell me, but he had drawn all over the loo walls at school and then had denied it but he had left one little clue, he'd signed the wall - laughs.
MARTHA: Not a good move! - laughs.
MARIA: I shouldn't be laughing because I'm having to see the headmaster tomorrow about it but I just think that is so endearing with way he has signed it.
MARTHA: Your own family was very musical wasn't it?
MARIA: Yes, absolutely, well, is still very musical. My brother is the leader of all sorts of orchestras and my mother is a pianist and still teaches piano, my father who sadly died a few years ago was a very established solo violinist and was the founder member of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Scottish Broque Ensemble etc.
MARTHA: His career, when you where a little girl, took you to Germany in the early sixties. Now you where an English girl froma Jewish family living there, what was that like?
MARIA: Well it's very, I mean don't know how much I read into it I think I certainly felt a foreigner that is for sure. I was born in Switzerland and my first memories really are my kindergarten in Germany - I didn't feel particularly accepted, but I think that must probably, I don't know if it is to do with the Jewish name or if it was do do with being English but I think the combination of just being different is quite a hard thing for a young child, I think.
MARTHA: Did you draw on any of that experience when you went on in later life to appear in the Sondheim, or, er, in the musical Ghetto which is about a woman who is forced to entertain the Nazis.
MARIA: I don't think I necessarily drew on that, I think from the Jewish roots certainly. I was in the middle of previews when my father actually told me - the play Ghetto was set in the Vilna ghetto in 1942 and I played the part of a woman called 'Hayyah' and it is a true story about how she was forced to entertain the Nazis and ended up going off and, the entire troupe got shot - but my grandparents came from Vilna and I hadn't known that at the time and there is something about that music that touches me deeply and I think that is just in my genes absolutely. I mean, I didn't draw on the Germany experience, I drew on the Jewish experience I think.
MARTHA: You where in that musical that Stephen Sondheim saw you for the first time and since then you have appeared in a lot of his musicals now one of your avourite roles is 'Fosca' in Passion and we are going to hear a song from that now, 'Loving You'.
SONG: Loving You from Passion.
MARTHA: Passion by Sondheim, who is now a good friend of yours, and a rather mischievous one I gather.
MARIA: - laughs - yes he has wicked sense of humour. When we where doing Merrily We Roll Along in Leicester he was re-writing with a group of us and - it was the first time I realised he had a wicked sense of humour - he gave everybody a first night card and I opened mine and it was a picture of him and George Furth, who had written the book, standing outside the Leicester Haymarket Theatre and on it it said 'Dear Maria, out of the entire cast you are the best'. I just went to heaven and back, but I thought I can't put this on my mirror because everybody will think I'm too vain, so I put it back into my little envelope and then I looked around the dressing room and everybody had their little brown envelopes hidden or in their bags and I went into the boys dressing room and in the bags, nobody had anything up until I got to the very end with the dressing full of the ensemble and their was one extremley ambitious girl who had it wapped up on her mirror - and she had exactly the same thing written - every single one of us had exactly the same, the entire cast.
MARTHA: How cruel!
MARIA: It was devastating!
MARTHA: You where very wise to keep in in your bag! I not so sure I'd be so secure.
MARIA: But what was so funny about it is that I kept it and I put it into my kitchen, up on the wall on one of those boards, and my next door neighbour - I never told them the ancedote - and they actually thought I'd got this thing up in my kitchen, they just thought I was terribly vain!
MARTHA: A marvellous story, we are going to end now with another one of your favourite songs which is 'My Romance' by Rodgers and Hart.
SONG: 'My Romance' by Rodgers and Hart.
MARTHA: Maria Friedman, thank you. And Maria's one woman show is on at the New Ambassadors Theatre until the end of week.
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