Maria Friedman won't let illness upstage her in Andrew Lloyd Webber s new musical

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated November 14, 2005 09:00 AM

Broadway divas probably don’t come any stronger than Maria Friedman, who over the past two weeks has barely missed a performance – despite being stricken with breast cancer.

Friedman, bandaged but still belting, is already back onstage in Andrew Lloyd Webber s The Woman in White, following surgery to remove a malignant lump last week.

On Oct. 31, just three days into previews of the new $8.5 million musical, “I found the lump,” Friedman, 45, tells The New York Times. “Two hours later I had a mammogram. And three days later, I was in surgery.”

Five days later she was back in rehearsal. Last Thursday, she was back before the public – as her costars, reportedly all verging on tears, cheered her on. (During the intermission of the three-hour show, Friedman’s doctor refitted her bandage to permit her more breathing room to sing.)

And this Thursday, Friedman says, she is ready for her opening night.

“We have a deadline, a committed company, a lot of people s livelihoods riding on this show,” the British-born Friedman, who is making her Broadway debut in the London import, tells The Times. “And I felt I dropped the baton at the last hurdle.” She also says that, although it is not yet known if she will require chemotherapy (which results in a loss of hair), “I already said they can stick a wig on my head.”

As for her motivation, Friedman – who has two children, Toby, 10, and Alfie, 3, and a boyfriend – says that she feels particularly responsible to one of the show’s producers: Sonia Friedman, who happens to be her younger sister.

“To open a show on Broadway is bad enough,” Sonia Friedman told The Times. “But then to have this? What kept me going is that Maria is not going to let this thing get in the way of her Broadway debut.”

Added Sonia of her sister, the star: “She d be damned before she d let that happen.”