Home > Interviews > The Daily Telegraph Magazine May 1995
Star Life: Maria Friedman
The Daily Telegraph, Magazine 6 May 1995
Singing in strip joints and at a family music festival led to an award-winning show. By Serena Allott.
The show that won Maria Friedman 'Best Entertainment' in this year's Olivier Awards was conceived two summers ago on Mull. Maria Friedman by Extra Special Arrangemnt opens at the Whitehall Theatre on May 16. The idea was born when she was on holiday and, to please her father, violinist Leonard Friedman, she agreed to sing once or twice at his music festival. "No publicity and no pressure," she thought. But as luck would have it, there among the island audience of puffin-seekers in Pakamacs was the director of the Donmar Warehouse who, on hearing Maria's voice, said, "I want that in my theatre."
Sadly Leonard Friedman died two weeks before his daughter's opened there last year. He was a Russian Jew with a peripatetic musical career: Maria was born in Switzerland, started school in Germany. (where she claims adhesive tape was put across her mouth to silence her) and before long had moved to England, her parents having separated. While her mother, a concert pianist, struggled to support her four children, Maria ran wild.
At 15 she left school and home and, operating from a bedsit shared with a boyfriend, relieved the tedium of assorted dead-end jobs by playing prinks on her employers. Eventually, having answered an advertisement for cabaret singers, she found herself in pink chiffon and false eyelashes, crooning her way around the strip joints and casinos of Europe: atrocious work, but with it came an Equity card.
The next ten years brought regular employment - and relative unhappiness. She says, "I was getting no joy from the work. Then I did Ghetto at the National and I realised there was work I could he proud to be a part of."
Although a mother, to five-month-old Toby, she admits that at 35 she is still driven by the need to please her parents: "Coming from an intellectual, classical background, and being neither of those things, it took time to find my place in the world." Now she has. As an actress-musician (or musician-actress) she is beginning to he able to pick and choose: should she do Sondheim or Chekhov? For the next six weeks music will prevail as she belts out the songs of Bernstein, Cole Porter, Jacques Brel, Rodgers and Hart. "These songs are dying. Where will they be if people like me don't sing them? I do feel I'm on a bit of a mission."
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