Michael Friedman, the composer, lyricist and Broadway veteran best known for co-creating the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, died on Saturday at 41, due to complications from HIV/AIDS.
We are devastated about the loss of our family member, Michael Friedman. His loss leaves a hole in the theater world that cannot be filled. pic.twitter.com/ALEU0eTYb9
— The Public Theater (@PublicTheaterNY) September 9, 2017
Wrote the NYT: “His death stunned the theater community, which had lost many artists to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, but fewer in recent years.”
As a composer, Friedman is most known for his work Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which opened on Broadway in 2010 following workshops at Williamstown Theatre Festival and New 42nd Street Studios, plus runs in Culver City, California, and New York’s Public Theater. The musical, depicting the populist president as an emo band frontman, became a talking point in the theatre community once more in 2016 due to its thematic ties to the presidential election.
“Andrew Jackson rewrote the history of America as he was going,” Friedman told Playbill in a 2010 interview. “That’s one of the weird things about taking control of a country; you get to rewrite the narrative entirely.”
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 theatre and popular art,” Freidman told Playbill in 2016. “I certainly think they are a conduit. Art is what survives from protest movements.”
He was a founding associate artist with the Civilians, an acclaimed downtown troupe that practices what it calls “investigative theater,” often using verbatim dialogue taken from interviews conducted by the artists.
He was endlessly interested in politics — a subject that informed much of his work and many of his dinner-table conversations — and in 2016 he collaborated with The New Yorker and WNYC on songs based on interviews with voters.
And most recently, he had served as artistic director of Encores! Off-Center, an annual summer program at New York City Center that presents staged concert performances of Off Broadway musicals.
In addition to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Friedman’s work included music for the musical The Fortress of Solitude, which played the Public in 2014, as well as the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park presentation of The Tempest the following year. He also penned the score for the 2008 Off-Broadway musical The Drunken City, as well as music for the 2010 Signature Theatre revival of Angels in America and the Broadway adaptation of Misery.
The Public Theater announced Friedman’s death.
Said Artistic Director Oskar Eustis: “Michael was one of the most brilliant, multi-talented theater artists of our time. He was also a miracle of a human being: loving, kind, generous, hilarious, thrilling. His loss leaves a hole in the theater world that cannot be filled, and a hole in the hearts of those who loved him that will last forever.”
Tributes poured out on Twitter:
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) September 10, 2017
RIP Michael Friedman, 41, hugely gifted composer and thinker. An unspeakable loss for the theater world. pic.twitter.com/x1wblTCVUI
— Adam Feldman (@FeldmanAdam) September 9, 2017
Time with Michael Friedman always made me feel more brave,more clear,more wise,more possible. Only he would know how to make sense of this.
— Jordan Roth (@Jordan_Roth) September 10, 2017
If Michael Friedman's loss is even 1/10 as painful as the losses felt at the height of the AIDS crisis, I don't know how anyone functioned.
— Lane Williamson (@lanewilliamson) September 10, 2017
The best tribute we can offer Michael Friedman is his own music from Angels in America. We love you Michael. RIP. https://t.co/fMxFC9YPso
— Signature Theatre (@SignatureTheatr) September 9, 2017
RIP Michael Friedman. This is so sad. I adored working with you and knowing you. The world isn't as bright anymore without you. 😔
— Donna Vivino (@donnavivino) September 9, 2017
— Rob Weinert-Kendt (@RobKendt) September 10, 2017
Michael Friedman was a frantic, funny, tender, explosive talent. A bewildering loss. https://t.co/L2re43YhCw
— Michael Schulman (@MJSchulman) September 9, 2017