London-based producer scores big with hit revivals

Going bicontinental has paid off handsomely for theater producer Sonia Friedman. An increasingly powerful player on the London legit scene since the early ’90s, she doubled the size of her business two years ago and moved into the New York market. The payoff? Two consecutive Tony Awards for best revival of a play (for “Boeing-Boeing” in 2008 and “The Norman Conquests” this year).

“I’m at a point now where this expansion is coming to fruition,” says the petite 44-year-old. What this means on day-to-day terms is “more time to develop, read and research — to do the real grassroots producing that I didn’t have time to do before.”

With eight shows in active production, including Broadway transfers of recent London hits “La Cage aux Folles” and “A Little Night Music” and dozens of other projects in longer-term development (including a musical version of “Shakespeare in Love” co-produced by Harvey Weinstein), Friedman’s small suite of offices over a central London theater is buzzing with activity.

But this, she says, is nothing new: “There are producers who love focusing on one or two things a year, but I need to do a lot. My brain is always fizzing.”

Friedman describes her approach as director- and actor-led, and likens fund-raising to “hedge-funding — I say, ‘If you want to invest in that project, you have to come in on this other one as well.’ Chances are one will work.”

She admits with a hearty laugh that a prediction made to Variety in February, that the legit biz would take a dip because of the global downturn, was “completely wrong.”

“The entertainment business is thriving through the recession,” she says. “Audiences are flocking to theater. It’s fantastic.”

IN A NUTSHELL

Job title: Theater producer

Mentor: Max Stafford-Clark, artistic director of the Out of Joint theater company and former artistic director of the Royal Court Theater

Career mantra: “The audience shouldn’t lead the artist.”

Leisure pursuits: “From walking my dog to two hours of reflexology.”

Philanthropic passions: “I sponsor a child in Kenya, and have been active in AIDS charities.”

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