The 4-year-old Ellie Friedman might have inspired the performance of the adult Ellie Friedman in the May River Theatre production of “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice,” opening April 28.
The play, by British dramatist Jim Cartwright, tells the story of a young heroine, called Little Voice, who has a hidden talent: She can emulate every chanteuse from Judy Garland to Edith Piaf to Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand.
Her talent was encouraged by her beloved father, a big fan of the divas. When the girl was very young, she would sit on his knee while he played his records, and she learned to sing their songs.
For Friedman, that part rings true.
“I did start singing with my dad. He would play the piano at Christmas events at Long Cove Club and I would stand on the piano bench and sing – when I was 4,” she said. “That went on for a couple of years.”
In the play, when the girl’s father dies, she retreats to her bedroom, becoming nearly agoraphobic. She plays the records and sings alone.
Her mother, a drunk who hates the old songs, plays her own music to drown out the sound. When a new gentleman friend comes to visit the mother, he hears Little Voice, and determines to make her a star – and make himself rich.
The first attempt in a nightclub is a flop. She was awful. For the next event, she gets dolled up and does a complete cabaret performance – and succeeded in entertaining the audience.
For Friedman, she began her theatrical career at the ripe age of 8, when she appeared in her first local play. She went on to get involved in local theatre productions, then a show choir at Hilton Head High School. More recently, she has been involved with May River on stage, as crew and as a board member.
Liz McGinnes, director of the local production, has known Friedman for a number of years.
“Ellie and I saw this show at SCAD years ago,” she said. “We were so chuffed about it that we knew we wanted to do ‘Little Voice’ someday,” she said. “When it came around to picking this season (at May River Theatre), Ellie said, ‘We can do “Little Voice”’ … so we sort of sold it to the board.”
McGinnes said she sees many parallels between the character of Little Voice and Friedman’s real-life experiences in choral groups and theatre performance. “This isn’t Ellie’s story,” she said, “but I felt like there were some parallels – in this person with his incredible voice, sort of coming in and out of the shadows a little bit.”
The cast also includes Diane Carter, Gregg Steele Heppner, Haden Gonsowski, Beth Schlieger, Tony Falgiani and McGinnes.
Performances of “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” are 7:30 p.m. April 28-29, May 5-6; and 2 p.m. April 30 and May 7.
Tickets are available at mayrivertheatre.com.
May River Theatre is located at 20 Bridge St. inside Bluffton Town Hall.