Shock and grief rocked the New York theater community last weekend with the news that 41-year-old composer-lyricist Michael Friedman had died Sept. 9 of complications from HIV/AIDS.
In recent years, many of Friedman’s pop-rock musicals have been produced by the Public Theater, including “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” (which briefly transferred to Broadway) and “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (at Shakespeare in the Park), both of which were directed and co-written by Alex Timbers (“Peter and the Starcatcher”).
Friedman frequently collaborated with the Civilians, an experimental theater troupe known for its quirky, documentary-style shows on such subjects as the Evangelical Movement, climate change and Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards.
He also wrote original music for a variety of plays, ranging from Shakespeare to the avant-garde “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.”
Friedman’s most recent musical, “The Abominables,” which is described as “Minnesota’s first hockey musical,” is being produced by the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.
Thankfully, many of Friedman’s scores were recorded and can be easily accessed digitally.
Below are three that I recommend checking out or revisiting. They demonstrate how there was no cultural topic, literary property or historical figure that Friedman could not musicalize.
1. Gone Missing (2003)
Based on interviews conducted by the Civilians with real New Yorkers about everyday items that got lost, the revue is a comic and occasionally sad meditation on loss. Following an Off-Off-Broadway debut, it received an extended Off-Broadway run in 2007.
2. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2006)
When this freewheeling and political-minded emo-rock musical about the 19th century populist president first emerged, it brought to mind the ascendance of Barack Obama and then the tea party.
However, it is probably most relevant and disturbing today in the Age of Trump. A revival later this season would be most fitting.
3. Love’s Labour’s Lost (2013)
Where Kenneth Branagh once failed, Friedman and Timbers succeeded, in turning a linguistically dense, early William Shakespeare romance into a vivacious college-age party musical.
It’s a shame the two of them did not go on to adapt more classic plays.