(A busy week has kept this review from being finished in a sane amount of time. Apologies.)
Take one West End star, give her a band and a theatre, and let some magic happen. Such is the process for compiling the charming and delightful Maria Friedman Rearranged, currently playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Backed by 30 musicians, Ms. Friedman takes us through a number of composers, from Jacques Brel (two songs using alternative translations) to Randy Newman and of course a plethora of Sondheim. Fans may be surprised, however, to find out that the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ahrens & Flaherty are missing from her repertoire, despite her involvement in shows from both. Still, Ms. Friedman is given the chance to shine as she changes from painfully distressed to tenderly affectionate to flat out insane as she opens the second set with “The Worst Pies on London” from Sweeney Todd. And if her banter between the songs isn’t as inspired as it could be, well...we weren’t coming for that anyways.
And the band? Oh the band, masterfully conducted (including one song where the two pianists, Michael Haslam and Chris Walker) bounce conducting duty back and forth in a brilliant display of musical acuity. Splitting 40 instruments among 11 musicians (the poor Dan Gresson running across the upper deck on a variety of percussion duties), patrons are treated to a lusher set of orchestrations than on offer from a number of shows in the West End.
Maria Friedman Rearranged is not a pinnacle of one-person shows or retrospectives, but it is an evening of glorious music which musical fans would be foolish to miss.
Where: Menier Chocolate Factory
When: Until 4 May, Tu-Sa @ 20:00, Su @ 15:30
How Much: £20 General Admission
Concessions: £17.50 bookable in advance
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. Standard price for a concert at a club.
RZ Other Notes: Asthma sufferers and those clearing the plague may wish to sit this one out, as the production uses a disgustingly large amount of stage fog, causing a mass coughing outburst at times during the show. It’s unnecessary for a production like this, and has hopefully been scaled back. Also note that the ushers will force you to cross the stage if you wish to sit on the left. The stage and the floor beneath it are both black, so BE CAREFUL - there were multiple falls the night the RZ attended. Lastly, those not wishing to engage in audience participation should avoid the aisles and row of cabaret tables left over from La Cage.
Now, to do something about those uncomfortable benches...