Maria Friedman Takes on Seven Questions About Stephen Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along & More
September 13th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Three-time Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman makes her Feinstein’s/54 Below solo debut with Lenny & Steve: The Music of Bernstein & Sondheim, an evening in which the West End legend compares and contrasts songs from Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's separate catalogues, as well as their joint masterpiece, West Side Story. Maria takes the stage September 19 through September 23.
BroadwayBox caught up with Maria Friedman to discuss her history of originating Sondheim musicals in the West End, her work directing the Olivier Award-winning Merrily We Roll Along revival, and her process for performing Sondheim.
1. Tell me about the first time you met Stephen Sondheim.
When I was auditioning for Sunday in the Park with George, on my fourth audition. I could hardly breathe. But I immediately relaxed in the room because his notes are so exacting and stimulating for an actress, and suddenly we were just working.
2. How do begin your process of performing/inhabiting a Sondheim song? How is it different than the way you approach other writers?
I start with immersing myself in the music and lyrics, and after I have learned them completely I start to identify the emotional content that relates to my own life. This is not exclusive to Sondheim, but with his work you're just given more.
3. What’s your most cherished memory of opening Sunday in London?
Knowing that I pleased the writers, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, and served their piece. I continue to honor writers as a performer and not get in the way of their ideas.
4. What was the biggest challenge of performing Fosca in Passion?
The relentless sadness and self destruction of the character eight times a week was pretty intense, but she learned a huge lesson in how to love by the end of it, so it was well worth digging deep. But I remain deeply in love with the character and the piece still.
5. I love your Merrily. How did you go about casting the perfect trio of old friends? What was your entry point to the piece?
People with life experience and complexities of their own. Then trying different people with each other and finding a chemistry that zinged.
My entry point is friendships and creativity—and the challenges of merging both.
6. What excites you about the American production running at Huntington Theatre Company and the addition of Eden Espinosa with your West End stars?
The Huntington is a place I urge everyone to visit. It's true collaboration with a top team and I feel our production has gone up several notches. Eden is truly wondrous as Mary and the British contingent adore her.
7. What’s left on your Sondheim bucket list (as a performer or a director)?
I've done every female Sondheim role that I'm right for so I have no unfinished business there, but I feel so connected to Stephen Sondheim and his writers, so I think for the rest of my life I'll be exploring his work as a performer and director. I'm looking forward to growing old exploring his music, ideas, and lyrics.
Don't miss Maria Friedman's 54 debut Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim & Bernstein September 19-23.