ShentonSTAGE Daily for MONDAY MARCH 7

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE.

Old Friends do tend to become old habit…….

Never knew
How much I missed you till now.”

That lyric, of course, is from Sondheim’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, his haunting portrait of how long-enduringnow  friendships change and are compromised over the years in a show that rewinds from the disillusioned present to the hopeful past to show how they have curdled and waned over time.

It’s therefore presumably with an unacknowledged irony that Cameron Mackintosh has named the Sondheim gala tribute he is producing at the theatre that bears Sondheim’s name on May 3 “Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends” that was announced on Friday. (See my new LIVE THEATRE DATES rolling blog for details here:

But to quote another, less cynically driven composer/lyricist Cole Porter, “It’s friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship. / When other friendships have been forgot, /Ours will still be hot.”

And on Saturday I saw a simply gorgeous and generous celebration of friendship and the community of theatre with MARIA FRIEDMAN & FRIENDS — LEGACY, a rich smorgasbord of musical brilliance of the work of three, now sadly departed, composers she knew and worked with extensively: Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch and Michel Legrand, lending her innate theatricality and warmth to every song. (It opens to the press tomorrow, March 8, but as I was told that it was not possible to accommodate me then, I bought a ticket to Saturday’s preview and immediately tweeted about after the performance, which Friedman herself retweeted in turn).

Amongst the friends — old and new — taking the stage with her was her own 19-year-old son Alfie Friedman, who gave such a spellbindingly confident and brilliant performance of Franklin Shepherd Inc from the aforementioned MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG that I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of him. His mother, of course, made her directorial debut with a revival of the same show at this very venue in 2012, with a production that subsequently transferred to the West End’s Harold Pinter; it is, she revealed, due to finally head to Broadway later this year. 

That would complete an extraordinary rehabilitation for a musical that originally died a fast death when it premiered at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon, and currently home to the Michael Jackson revue MJ) in 1981. Maria Friedman was also a part of its earlier reclamation on these shores when she starred in a revival at Leicester Haymarket in 1992 that has been preserved on an original cast recording (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for the CD release)

As well as Sondheim, Friedman’s show also celebrated two other now departed composers Marvin Hamlisch and Michel Legrand with whom she also had long professional and personal associations, plus another (unbilled on the poster and programme), the phenomenal Adam Guettel, to each of whose work she lent her innate theatricality and warmth.

Of course, it’s impossible for Friedman to enumerate all her influences and credits — she originated a lead role in the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE WOMAN IN WHITE in the West End, and reprised the role on Broadway, but he doesn’t get a mention. (Neither does Howard Goodall, whose second stage musical GIRLFRIENDS marked her own breakthrough professional leading role at Oldham Coliseum in 1986).

But the show is otherwise above all a remarkable tribute of friendship and kinship from one great artist to each of these great composers, spellbindingly threaded together with personal anecdotes and thrilling musicianship (led by musical director Theo Jamieson, soon to be heard as a composer in his own right for THE FAMOUS FIVE at Theatr Clwyd and Chichester), and singers that also included Ian McLarnon and Matthew White (pictured below with her), newcomer Desmonda Cathabel and a choir from the Royal Academy of Music. 


I incidentally saw the show with a new friend from New York, @broadwaybobnyc, who I met via Twitter — proving that not all is bad on that beleaguered platform where grievance thrives so easily; but so, sometimes, do human connections. 


We are now living in an increasingly parallel universe, one in which actors are cast in West End musicals based on their pop music credits — and then sue, claiming vocal damage from simply being asked to perform the role as written and which they had auditioned to appear in.

Such is the extraordinary story of former Sugarbabes singer Jade Ewen, who has brought  a £200,000 compensation claim for injuries she claimed she sustained while appearing, in ALADDIN at the Prince Edward Theatre.

According to reporting of her case in the Evening Standard, her lawyer Tom Nossiter said that her co-star Matthew Croke (appearing in the title role, pictured above right with Ewen, left), “found it difficult to keep harmony if he could hear anyone else singing. To compensate for this, during the duets he sang very loudly so that he could not hear (Ewen’s) voice. (She) was forced, repeatedly during the eight performances per week, over a period of about 18 months, to sing at a louder volume and with greater strength than was comfortable and/or safe for her. Her vocal cords were placed under strain, increasing the risk of damage being caused to the vocal cords. There was something of a vicious circle in that the louder she sang, the louder Matthew Croke sang over her.”

Not only was she apparently ill-prepared to meet the professional expectations made of her (for which she duly blamed her co-star), but also she only discovered, over the course of a year and a half, that she was sustaining this damage, and is now bringing the case after the fact. This reflects far worse on her than it does on Mr Croke; but her case isn’t against him but against the producers who she claims failed to protect her.


My regularly updated list of shows announced in London, selected regional theatres and Broadway is here:


If you can’t wait that long, I can also be found regularly on Twitter here: