British singer/actress Maria Friedman was born in Switzerland on March 19, 1960, to Leonard Friedman, a Russian violinist, and Clair Friedman, a concert pianist. The family soon moved to Germany, where Friedman's father joined the Bremen Philharmonic, but her parents divorced when she was five, and her mother moved her and her two sisters and brother to England. Musically inclined, Friedman initially took up the cello, but later abandoned it. After a checkered academic career that included a brief stay at Arts Educational School, she began living with her boyfriend, dancer Ronald Brine, in London, still no more than 16 years old. (They married in 1985.) She took a succession of jobs outside music. Eventually, she began to find work as a singer, and by 1980 had earned her Equity card. Her first stage appearance came in the chorus of a West End revival of Oklahoma!. It opened September 17, 1980, and ran until September 19, 1981. (She is on the cast album, but cannot be heard individually.) Regional work followed, and she returned to the West End in a small part in Blondel on November 9, 1983, performing in the show in London through its closing on September 22, 1984, and appearing on the cast album. Her next important credit was a featured part in the West End musical revue Blues in the Night, which opened on June 12, 1987, and was recorded for a cast album; she remained with the show until February 1988. Again, she did regional work before returning to the West End in the play-with-music Ghetto, which ran from April 27 to November 9, 1989. During this period, she appeared on a studio cast recording of The Student Prince.
Friedman's work brought her to the attention of Stephen Sondheim, which led to her inclusion in a studio cast recording of his show A Little Night Music in March 1990 and to her casting in the starring role of Dot in the first West End production of his Sunday in the Park with George, which opened March 15 with a run through June 16, 1990. In 1991, she was part of the original studio cast recording of Off the Wall. Starting in September, she became a television star with a role on the popular series Casualty, which ran through February 1992. On April 14, 1992, she starred in a revival of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along in Leicester that ran until May 9 and later produced a cast album. Her next West End performance came in Square Rounds starting on October 1, with a run through January 16, 1993.
In November 1993, Friedman had the lead role of Sally Bowles in a studio cast recording of Cabaret. She spent three months starting on February 1, 1994, in the play April in Paris. During this period, she also began performing her one-woman show, Maria Friedman by Special Arrangement, which won her her first Olivier Award (the West End equivalent of the Tony Awards). In August, she gave birth to a son, Toby, the father being Jeremy Sams. In 1995, she returned to cabaret work in a new one-woman show called Maria Friedman by Extra Special Arrangement. Using her one-woman shows as the basis, she recorded her debut solo album, Maria Friedman. (A later issue of the album was retitled Broadway Baby.)
In October 1995, Friedman appeared in Leicester in the play The Break of Day, which transferred to London on November 28 and ran until January 13, 1996. After it closed, she went into Sondheim's Passion, which toured before opening in London on March 26, then ran through September 28. Her performance won her her second Olivier Award, this one for Best Actress in a Musical, and a cast album was recorded. On March 11, 1997, she returned to the West End in the first London production of the 1941 Broadway musical Lady in the Dark, which ran through August 2. This production also produced a cast recording. In November 1998, she became a replacement in the London revival of Chicago, staying in the show through June 1999, taking a four-month break, and returning for another stint through February 2000.
On July 18, 2000, Friedman starred in a new musical in the West End, The Witches of Eastwick. She stayed in it through June 2001 and appeared on the cast album. In April 2002, she began performing in a new one-woman show in London. That summer, she gave birth to her second child, Alfie. On March 19, 2003, she returned to the West End in Ragtime, which ran through June 14 and won her a third Olivier Award. She took her one-woman show to New York in 2003, appearing at the Café Carlyle. In 2004, she released her second solo album, Maria Friedman Live. Her next London musical found her working with Andrew Lloyd Webber, starring in The Woman in White, which opened September 14, 2004. She stayed with the show through May 2005 and appeared on the cast album. She went to New York to make her Broadway debut in The Woman in White, which began previews in October. During this period, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and forced to undergo medical treatment. But she recovered sufficiently to make the Broadway opening of The Woman in White on November 17, 2005, and received positive notices. Unfortunately, the show as a whole did not, and its New York run was brief, concluding on February 19, 2006.
Friedman returned to the Café Carlyle for a one-month run on May 2, 2006, the day that marked the American release of her album Now and Then, really a reissue of the 1995 disc Maria Friedman with two new tracks, "Smile" and a performance of "Children and Art" from Sunday in the Park with George with piano accompaniment by its composer, Stephen Sondheim. ~ William Ruhlmann