Beatrice Friedman is one of the most visible women in Sarasota, yet she stands under 5 feet tall and is conspicuously quiet much of the time. Her name, like those of Alice Tully, Vivian Beaumont and Avery Fisher in New York City, adorns the multiple musical spaces around Sarasota. And it’s a rare performance that doesn’t have her name listed on the program and a special thank you made from the stage.
Recently, Bea Friedman celebrated her 94th birthday with a luncheon in her very own Symphony Center. The food — from blintzes to giant shrimp — was spectacular but, upstaging that magnificent display, was the entertainment, provided by Sarasota’s wunderkind, 16 year old Maria Wirries. Maria was just recently accepted into Penn State’s Musical Theater program. More than 500 students tried to get in. About a dozen were accepted. Maria was number one.
In a way, Bea Friedman has become Maria’s surrogate great-grandmother so, it was fitting that Maria would sing for Bea’s celebration. When asked to put together a medley of “old songs,” Maria answered, “Oh, you mean like the Beatles?”
No, she was told. Like World War II songs. Nostalgia. The good old stuff. So Maria, who is multi-talented — in addition to singing, she also ice skates and dances, writes music and poetry, and is a computer whiz — did some digital splicing and came up with a medley of nearly a dozen songs, in keys that segued perfectly, for a Bea Friedman song cycle.
Starting with “The White Cliffs of Dover,” the 16 year old wowed the audience with touching renditions of old favorites like “S’Wonderful,” “As Time Goes By,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”... (of company Bea). She sang. She danced. She had everyone riveted. And, to end, she gave us a revved up rendition of “Birth of the Blues” that would have had Bing Crosby cheering.
Celebrating a wonderful life of 94 years, a life that’s done so much for so many, is a wondrous thing. When you have a 16 year old leading that celebration, especially one like Maria who is on the verge of doing great things for generations to come, it makes the celebration even more special. It’s a blessed city that has so much talent apportioned at both ends of the spectrum.
Happy birthday, Bea, and many more. Happy future, Maria. We’re anticipating.