Born in Birmingham (UK), the daughter of Clair Llewelyn Friedman (née Sims), a concert pianist, and Leonard Friedman, a violinist for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on 19 March 1961. She began her education in Germany, and by the age of five returned with her family to England after the divorce of her parents.
She first gained fame when she won an Olivier Award for her one-woman cabaret, ‘Maria Friedman By Special Arrangement’ and another Olivier Award starring in Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Passion’ in 1996, and later became one of the main leading ladies on the London Stage. She would later star in ‘Chicago’ and ‘Ragtime’, both on the West End.
Her self-titled debut album, released in 1995, was a collection of pop tracks and musical songs, including a cover version of The Man With The Child In His Eyes. It was re-released in America in 2006 as ‘Now And Then’.
In 2004 she originated the role of Marian Halcombe in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical ‘The Woman in White’ in the West End and on Broadway in 2005. In the 1999 film of Lloyd Webber’s ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, she played the narrator.
As previews for The Woman in White started for the Broadway production, she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and left the show to have surgery to have the lump removed. Less than a week after the surgery she returned to the stage for the previews and performed on the official opening night. She said she would begin radiation treatment for the cancer in December 2005. The Broadway production closed after only 109 performances on 22 February 2006, in part due to her and co-star Michael Ball’s frequent absences due to illness.
As well as other musical shows, Maria participated in ‘Hey, Mr. Producer!’, the concert celebrating the works of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, in which she sang three songs. Similarly, she participated in Sondheim Tonight live at London’s Barbican Centre, singing ‘Losing My Mind’ (from Follies) and ‘More’ (from the film Dick Tracy). She has also had several one woman shows: ‘Maria Friedman – By Special Arrangement’ and ‘Maria Friedman – By Extra Special Arrangement’ and has performed these in several top cabaret venues in both the UK and New York City.
In 2010, Friedman appeared as a soloist in the BBC Proms tribute to Stephen Sondheim at the Royal Albert Hall, London. She sang the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd opposite Bryn Terfel. In 2012 she directed a revival of Sondheim’s ‘Merrily We Roll Along’. In October 2014, Friedman joined the cast of EastEnders as Elaine Peacock, the mother of established character Linda Carter (Kellie Bright). She has since appeared in December 2014 and February to March 2015 to date, before returning for a three-month stint in September 2015. In 2015, she directed a revival of ‘High Society’ at The Old Vic Theatre.