“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.


RIP Barbara Cook, 89

Barbara Cook, the self-proclaimed poor, naive Southern Belle who became the reigning soprano in the Golden Age of Broadway and then a cabaret and concert hall star of the first magnitude, has died at age 89.

Broadway will dim its lights in her honor on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m.

Read my review of her memoir published just last year., about a life full of 19 Broadway shows, 45 albums, 40 yrs of sobriety — and one glorious golden voice that never failed her.

She would tell students: “Concentrate on what you’re trying to say with this song; the words have to matter.”


Barbara Cook in Mostly Sondheim

Sam Shepard, 1943-2017. #Ham4All videos. Week in New York Theater

Sam Shepard, a playwright who explored the dark side of the American West in such brutal, elliptical works as “Buried Child” and “True West,” died last Thursday at the age of 73. The marquees of Broadway theaters in New York will be dimmed in his memory on Wednesday, August 2nd, at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.

Shepard was also a reluctant movie star, performing in more than 50 films, including his Oscar-nominated role in “The Right Stuff,” and more than a dozen roles on television.

Having grown up on an avocado farm in California, Shepard moved to New York in 1962, having discovered jazz and the plays of Samuel Beckett. He began his playwriting career at age 21 Off-Off Broadway in 1965. He was not just a rock n roll playwright. He was a rock n roller, writing songs with Bob Dylan, and playing drums with a group called the Holy Modal Rounders. Shepard went on to write more than 50 plays, the last, A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations), produced at the Signature in 2014.

“There are these territories inside all of us, like a child or a father or the whole man, and that’s what interests me more than anything: where those territories lie.”

“I’m not doing this in order to vent demons. I want to shake hands with them.”

“I’m a great believer in chaos. I don’t believe that you start with a formula and then you fulfill the formula. Chaos is a much better instigator, because we live in chaos – we don’t live in a rigorous form.”

Obituary New York Times

Remembering Sam Shepard, PBS Newshour

Q & A, American Theatre, 1984

An appreciation by Magic Theater founder John Lion in 1984: “Rock ’n’ Roll Jesus With a Cowboy Mouth. Sam Shepard, like Elvis, has found an infectious groove in the cracks of American mythology”

Week in NY Theater Reviews

To The End of the Land Review: An Israeli Love Triangle Defined By War

NYMF Review: The Goree All Girl String Band. Prisoners Fiddling Their Way to Freedom.

NYMF Review: A Wall Apart. Love and Rock N Roll vs. The Berlin Wall.

Bubbly Black Girl, Oak vs. Mandy, and the Continuing Relevance of Race on Broadway (and the World)

Midsummer Night’s Dream Review: Public Theater Upstaged and Upstaging

Week in NY Theater News

Soho Rep will return to its longtime home with a new season that includes new works from Aleshea Harris and Jackie Sibblies Drury.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s month long #Ham4all fundraising challenge to raise money for the Immigrants: We Get the Job Done Coalition, has concluded.

James Iglehart

Josh Groban

Phillipa Soo

Bobby Cannavale (and his baby peeing in the tub)

Alex Lacamoire (and familiar guest)


I just really love theater.
I love it the way most people love sports or food.
I love everything about it. I love reading it.
I love seeing it even when it’s bad.
I love teaching it. I especially like making it.,,,

I’m not sure it loves me back.

– Jessica R. Williams as a playwright in the Netflix film, The Incredible Jessica James

RIP Photographer Martha Swope, 40 Years Of Broadway


nypl-digitalcollections-0952a780-0eb4-0131-9b42-58d385a7b928-001-rBelow are some of the photographs by Martha Swope, who died Thursday at age 88.   In a professional career that officially spanned from 1957 to 1994, she focused on ballet and Broadway. Her 15 theater pictures below  — of Richard Burton in “Camelot,” and Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in “Private Lives”;  Bernadette Peters; Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim in rehearsal; Ethel Merman in “Hello, Dolly”; Ben Vereen in “Pippin”; Angela Lansbury in “Gypsy”;  Jennifer Holliday in “Dreamgirls”; the original cast of “Hair”, Maya Angelou in “The Blacks”; Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in “Evita”; Nathan Lane and Faith Prince in “Guys and Dolls”. Chita Rivera in “West Side Story” (in 1957), in “Chicago” (in 1975) and in “Kiss of the Spiderwoman “(in 1993) — were selected from some 1,520,000 images Swope donated to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Click on any one of the photographs by Martha Swope to see it enlarged and read the caption.


The Wit of Carrie Fisher (Oct 21, 1956 – Dec 27, 2016)



Instant gratification takes too long.

Two of the saddest words in the English language are, ‘What party?’

I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.

You know how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well, I took masses of opiates religiously

You know how most illnesses have symptoms you can recognize? Like fever, upset stomach, chills, whatever.
Well, with manic depression, it’s sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, and substance abuse – and that just sounds like a fantastic weekend in Vegas to me!

Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything…I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”

I do believe you’re only as sick as your secrets. If that’s true, I’m just really healthy.

As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don’t.

You know what’s funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You’d think we could remember finding out we weren’t immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing airports and I think, “Aww. They’ve just been told.”

(Most of these quotes are from Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher’s memoir and one-woman show.



Edward Albee, 1928-2016. “I despise restful art.”

“Edward Albee, one of the most innovative playwrights of his generation, whose raw, unnerving dramas — and even the few comedies — scraped at the veneer of American success and happiness, died Sept. 16 at his home in Montauk, Long Island. He was 88.” Washington Post obituary

“He introduced himself suddenly and with a bang, in 1959, when his first produced play, “The Zoo Story,” opened in Berlin on a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.” A two-handed one-act that unfolds in real time, “The Zoo Story” zeroed in on the existential terror at the heart of Eisenhower-era complacency, presenting the increasingly menacing intrusion of a probing, querying stranger on a man reading on a Central Park bench.” – New York Times obituary

Lynn Nottage: I will miss his wit, irreverence & wisdom. He enlivened the theatre landscape.

The Sandbox 3 Ryan-James Hatanaka and Phyllis Somerville

The last production of an Albee play in New York was in May: The Sandbox

Jessica Afton as the nurse

Jessica Afton as the nurse

The Death of Bessie Smith, rarely performed, in a production in Brooklyn’s Interfaith Hospital in 2014. (Can Edward Albee save Brooklyn’s Interfaith hospital?)


A Delicate Balance, on Broadway in 2014

Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,

The 2012 Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf



The plays of Edward Albee:

The Zoo Story (1958)
The Death of Bessie Smith (1959)
The Sandbox (1959)
Fam and Yam (1959)
The American Dream (1960)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1961–1962)
The Ballad of the Sad Café (1963) (adapted from the novella by Carson McCullers)
Tiny Alice (1964)
Malcolm (1965) (adapted from the novel by James Purdy)
A Delicate Balance (1966)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (adapted from the novel by Truman Capote) (1966)
Everything in the Garden (1967)
Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1968)
All Over (1971)
Seascape (1974)
Listening (1975)
Counting the Ways (1976)
The Lady from Dubuque (1977–1979)
Lolita (adapted from the novel by Vladimir Nabokov) (1981)
The Man Who Had Three Arms (1981)
Finding the Sun (1983)
Marriage Play (1986–1987)
Three Tall Women (1990–1991)
The Lorca Play (1992)
Fragments (1993)
The Play About the Baby (1996)
Occupant (2001)
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002)
Knock! Knock! Who’s There!? (2003)
Peter & Jerry, retitled in 2009 to At Home at the Zoo (Act One: Homelife. Act Two: The Zoo Story) (2004)
Me Myself and I (2007)



Q and A with Edward Albee, great playwright, difficult interview subject

Orlando Mass Shooting Prompts Outpouring by Theater Community

An American-born suspect identified as Omar Mateen shot and killed 50 people early this morning at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The largest mass shooting in American history occurred during LGBTQ Pride Month, and on the day of the Tony Awards. It prompted an outpouring from people in the theater community.

View image on Twitter

President Barack Obama’s comments from the White House:

Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder—a horrific massacre—of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.

I just finished a meeting with FBI Director Comey and my homeland security and national security advisors. The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation, in partnership with local law enforcement. I’ve directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.

We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what—if any—inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days, we’ll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.

This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed the condolences of the entire American people. This could have been any one of our communities. So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need—they are going to get it. As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow and for all the days to come.

We also express our profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed into harm’s way. Their courage and professionalism saved lives, and kept the carnage from being even worse. It’s the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals make every single day for all of us, and we can never thank them enough.

This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation—is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.

In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families—that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more—as a country—by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts—friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love. Thank you.


“…where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live.”


RIP Muhammad Ali, Broadway Musical Star

BuckWhitePosterAliinBuckWhiteMuhammad Ali, who died Friday at 74, was among “one of the most famous faces on Earth” as the world heavyweight boxing champion. Fewer know he also starred on Broadway.
In 1969, when he was banned from the ring because of his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War, Ali starred in a musical called Buck White, playing the title role of a militant black lecturer who addresses a meeting organized by a black political group. The musical ran a total of 16 perviews and seven regular performances.
“How is Mr. Clay?” Clive Barnes wrote in his review. “He emerges as a modest, naturally appealing man; he sings with a pleasant slightly impersonal voice, acts w/o embarrassment, moves with innate dignity. You are aware he is not a professional performer only when he is not performing. He has no trained histrionic presence and when left in the background, he disappears completely in a manner no experienced actor would. For all this, he does himself proud.”

He re-created his role on the Ed Sullivan Show.

A brief documentary years later.

RIP Roger Rees

Roger Rees

Roger Rees, the Tony winning actor and director, died on July 10 at age 71, after a short illness.

A familiar face on television — he was the snobbish Robin Colcord on  “Cheers” and the eccentric British ambassador, Lord John Marbury, in “The West Wing,” — Rees made his mark as a theater artist of great energy and inventiveness. He wowed New York audiences in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s marathon adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,” for which he won the 1982 Tony for best actor in a play. He had earlier won an Olivier in England for the role, and later, when it was adapted for television, earned an Emmy nomination.

From the Playbill obituary: “Nicholas Nickleby was unlike anything else ever seen on the London or New York stages when it arrived in the early 1980s. David Edgar adapted Dickens’ 1839 tale of the fortune-tossed, but loyal and good-hearted Nicholas who, after losing his father, must struggle to support his mother and sister, all without the help of his uncle Ralph, a heartless businessman.”

(I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Rees in Nicholas Nickleby. In my memory, the play lasted 13 hours long, yet his energy never flagged. He was bopping not only all over the stage, but throughout the audience as well. He gave me a piece of bread.)

Rees’ ninth and last performance on Broadway was opposite Chita Rivera in The Visit, which Rees was forced to leave in May for a medical procedure.  He also co-directed with Alex Timbers “Peter and the Starcatcher,” for which they were nominated for a Tony.

From the AP: “Born in Aberystwyth, Wales, in 1944, he spent more than two decades with the Royal Shakespeare Company and served as the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts from 2004 to 2007. He was also the associate artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic in England for two years starting in 1985.

“In films, Rees played the Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks’ “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” in 1993 and was in “The Scorpion King” in 2002 and “The Pink Panther” in 2006.

“He is survived by his husband Rick Elice, the playwright, whose credits include the “Peter Pan” prequel “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which Rees co-directed.”

From Trevor Nunn, who directed him in Nicholas Nickleby:

“Roger was inspirational.  He had the perpetual boyishness and mischief of a Peter Pan, extraordinary wit combined with a gift for self-satire, and dauntless optimism coupled with deep-rooted belief.  All these ingredients went into his acting, and I am sure, into his directing, and gave him an aura of rare, generous spirited humanity.  He was always superb at being just ‘one of the gang’ in the company, while equally deft at leading by example, leading by commitment.  All this was sublimated in his Nicholas Nickleby, the giant success of which led him to change his life by moving to America.  I spent a magical evening with him in New York only a few months ago.  He talked of his illness – with optimism, with wit, with self-satire, and with deep-rooted belief … and once again, to be in his presence was inspirational.”