London's lack of a good cabaret space has long been a source of grumbling amongst the theatre community, with venues like Shoreditch's Brickhouse focusing on a (very good) line up of burlesque and comedy rather than more music-themed programming.
The Hippodrome Casino's Matcham Room plans to change that, and it couldn't have chosen a better act to kick off its Live at the Hippodrome series.
Maria Friedman honed her cabaret skills at The Carlyle in New York, and it shows. She's a stalwart of the West End stage, appearing in The Witches of Eastwick, The Woman in White and Passion, but her one-woman shows are where she really shines. The Matcham Room is sophisticated with a touch of gleeful trashiness, suiting her performance style perfectly. Friedman's personality can - and has - filled a space ten times the size, but she clearly relishes the intimacy, strutting through the audience during some of the numbers and crawling around the floor in another.
The first time I saw her perform live, I winced my way through her rendition of ‘Losing My Mind’, admiring her pluck for singing such an emotional song when she was clearly on the verge of some relationship-induced nervous breakdown. No, my companion reassured, she's always like that. Nevertheless, my hand was hovering over the number for the Samaritans when she reprised it in Tuesday's show. As ever, it’s her emotional range that astonishes and her musical mood swings keep the audience on their toes – one minute she’s mournful but brave-faced on ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’, the next she’s brassily sexy singing her virtues on ‘I Can Cook’.
Whilst even some seasoned performers let themselves down when it comes to chatting with the audience, Friedman gives good patter. Joking about writing her own version of 50 Shades of Grey – “hey, I’ve led an interesting life!” – and teasing Jason Carr on piano shamelessly (he loves it as much as the audience does), it feels less like a show and more like a dinner party with a slightly mad friend who keeps bursting into song.
And what songs. She restricts herself to Sondheim – unsurprisingly – and Bernstein, whom she performs rarely if ever. Starting with ‘New York’ from On the Town and ending with ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story via a gloriously punchy interpretation of ‘Another Hundred People’, she gallops between patter songs and full-bodied belting. If her voice is raspier than it used to be, then she employs it with great effect and doesn’t hold back when it comes to throwing her still-considerable fire-power at a number. Her encore was a delightfully bonkers rendition of 'Gee, Officer Krupke', that ended in most of the audience joining in.
Friedman’s enthusiasm for her new venue was evident, and if she holds to her promise of doing more cabaret in London now, audiences will be lucky twice over.