In 2018, Sonia Friedman and her partners brought the Olivier Award-winning production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” to the Lyric Theatre on Broadway. The show went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Play.
But, of course, that wasn’t the only production Friedman had running on Broadway. Just this year, her Broadway shows included “Farinelli and the King,” “Mean Girls,” “Travesties,” “The Ferryman,” and the long-running “The Book of Mormon.” Not to mention her many current and in-development projects on the West End, off-Broadway, on television and elsewhere.
Because of her powerful impact, both artistically and commercially, on the industry, the Broadway Briefing, the theater industry newsletter owned by the publisher of Broadway News, selected Friedman as the 2018 Broadway Showperson of the Year. This honor is presented to “the person or persons who most influenced Broadway this year.”
In the Briefing, Noma Dumezweni, a current cast member of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” wrote about how Friedman approaches her shows:
She doesn’t write shows. She doesn’t direct them. She doesn’t design them. She makes them happen. (That’s a proper super power, sheathed in a fabulously shaggy coat, with a touch of glitter thrown in, in lieu of a cape.)
Sonia Friedman is a true teller of stories. Because she trusts and follows her gut, when the right stories call, she helps and makes them live. It’s a feeling she has.
Thirty years a producer, Sonia is at the top of her game, producing extraordinary work on both sides of the pond. As a little girl, she grew up in a house of feral creativity. Often left to her own devices, along with her brother and two sisters, her creative life began with making songs and stories with the dolls in her bedroom. And…it has never really stopped. These early acts of creativity clearly gave her the confidence to trust her feelings above everything else, and to believe in the possibility of what storytelling in theater can achieve in this world.
It is impossible to fully articulate the range and breadth of the work that she produces. I could call her a collector of ‘griots.’ Most of the best tellers of tales in plays have been and always are in her orbit: Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Jez Butterworth, Jack Thorne, Jules Styne, Polly Stenham, Samuel Beckett, Tina Fey, Henry Krieger, Shakespeare — names that don’t often appear alongside each other, artists that span all forms and styles of theater. If the story speaks to Sonia, she will trust it.
One of those stories, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” came from that sense of trust. A trust between Sonia and one of the world’s most successful writers, J.K. Rowling, that the next chapter of the story of the boy who lived under the stairs could be told on a stage. Who’d have thought there would be a next chapter? Sonia — perhaps due to her own childhood — understood that growing up is not a balm, but an understanding of one’s place in the world. She entered into the project with a desire to create a piece that asked a simple question: how do you act as a parent when you never had parents of your own? With her producing partner on the project, Colin Callender, Sonia set about creating the most magical team they wished to work with. Her determination to tell this story, and her trust that it was the right story to tell, has opened the theater world to new audiences!
And this, this is where Sonia’s true contribution to theater lies. She opens doorways for audiences to discover new kinds of work, and builds wider audiences. From the West End to Broadway, she is in the process of changing the architecture of theater audiences, widening the range of who steps inside these shapeshifting buildings.
Seriously, Google her. You’ll quickly see that for the last two decades or more Sonia has been orchestrating the theatre scene on both sides of the Atlantic. You’ll have been moved to tears by one of her shows, or have been jumping in the aisles, or laughing till you ache. Whether it’s this season’s smash “The Ferryman” or maybe “Jerusalem,” or Mark Rylance in the Shakespeares, “The Book of Mormon,” “Boeing Boeing,” “Shopping and Fucking,” “Noises Off,” “Jumpers,” “Bent,” “Faith Healer,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “Legally Blonde,” “Arcadia,” “Travesties,” “Farinelli and the King,” “Dreamgirls,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” or her other current productions, “The Jungle,” “The Inheritance,” “Mean Girls,” or “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
See what I mean?! (It’s the breadth of human emotion she craves.)
She’s a tough bird. You have to be in this world. Her standards are exacting, and yet her heart is actually mush — she shares it carefully. I’ve been able to witness it through my experience working for her.
New York, London and the rest of the world will continue to witness the joy of theater and storytelling, because once upon a time, a tale was told, and she wanted to share it.