“Art is what survives from protest movements.” RIP theater composer Michael Friedman, 41

Michael Friedman
All the obituaries for Michael Friedman, who died at the age of 41 on Saturday due to complications of HIV/AIDs, will surely lead with his having composed and orchestrated the music and written the lyrics for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a cheeky downtown turned Broadway musical that presented the seventh president as a genocidal rock star.
Yet anybody who witnessed his extraordinary collaborations as one of the founders of  The Civilians (“The Great Immensity,” “In The Footprint,” “Occupy Wall Street: Stories From Liberty Square,” and dozens more) or his musical adaptations, or his original music for straight plays from Shakespeare to Kushner, will understand how difficult it would be to sum up the talent of composer, lyricist, dramaturg, artistic director,  political activist and theater visionary Michael Friedman — and how great the loss his early death.
Below are some samples: videos and links to reviews.

The Song Makes A Space: Michael Friedman at TEDxEast

The last paragraph of my review of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson”:
…Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” largely works, because of Michael Friedman’s 13 songs. Played by a three-member band on stage and sung by Benjamin Walker and the rest of the large, capable cast, they are hard-charging, tuneful, inventive — and, unlike much of the rock on Broadway stages, theatrical. Friedman, who is most associated with the seriously engaged “investigative theater” company The Civilians, is making his Broadway debut…as a composer; he was a dramaturg for “A Raisin in the Sun.” He also has written the original music for this season’s revival of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” at the Signature Theater. Benjamin Walker and Alex Timbers…have been getting the ink for “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Michael Friedman is the member of the team I’d vote for.

From my review of Fortress of Solitude

“Everybody’s singing
A different song
But if they all fit together
Then they can’t be wrong,”
…sing a character named Rachel and various other members of the extraordinary 18-member cast, at the start of a musical that fills the stage at the Public Theater with pop, punk, funk, rap, and especially soul — a brilliant exercise in musical pastiche by Michael Friedman,

Friedman in conversation with Tony Kushner. (Friedman wrote the music for the revival of Kushner’s Angels in America)

Listen to his songs after the presidential election, The State of the Union Songbook


From the Playbill obituary:

Friedman had been working on a piece that musicalized the thoughts of primary voters from across the United States during election season. Each new song would premiere on The New Yorker’s Radio Hour; the magazine had also partially funded the project. “I definitely believe in the politics of music and theater and popular art,” Freidman told Playbill in 2016. “I certainly think they are a conduit. Art is what survives from protest movements.”


New York Times obituary.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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