Maria Friedman is holding court once again at the Cafe Carlyle, in a new program under the banner “By Special Arrangement.” The pert English diva is sandwiched between twin upright pianos attended by Michael Haslam and Chris Walker.
Friedman opened with songs from “Lady in the Dark,” the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin tuner in which she starred in a 1997 revival at London’s National Theater. Reprising the romantic quandary of the neurotic Liza Elliott, Friedman sings “One Life to Live” and “My Ship,” infusing them with a lush and lustrous veneer.
A Broadway comic spree finds a woman pushed to the very limits by a two-timin’ guy in “If You Hadn’t but You Did.” The tune by Adolph Green, Betty Comden and Jule Styne is a lark from the 1951 revue “Two on the Aisle,” and it showcased Friedman’s feisty comic attack.
Friedman recalls the legacy of the bawdy Brit music hall legend Marie Lloyd, toasting her memory with a plaintive reading of Noel Coward’s “If Love Were All.” The diminutive chanteuse also gave a sneak preview of new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “The Woman in White.” Friedman will star in the West End production this fall opposite Michael Crawford. Here she sings a song given to another character in the show, “Ever on My Mind,” a love song marked by typical Lloyd Webber romantic yearning.
Friedman is also a premier interpreter of the Stephen Sondheim canon. Her current program boasts a couplet from “Sunday in the Park With George” — “Finishing the Hat” and “Children and Art” — both performed with theatrical savvy and the kind of knowing musical awareness that defines the complexities of a Sondheim composition. Her encore is a breathless “Broadway Baby” that is purred with kittenish restraint. She shifts to full throttle for the finale.
Haslam and Walker provided the kind of tandem accompaniment that Eadie and Rack once gave to Beatrice Lillie on the concert stage. Friedman also took time out while the pair engaged in a fanciful keyboard duet of musical quotes from classical and legit repertoire.