Michael Friedman, the phenomenally talented composer and lyricist of theatrical works, including Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, died today due to complications related to HIV/AIDS. He was 41, and word of his passing shocked and devastated the theater community.
Friedman’s death was confirmed by the Public Theater, where he had his artistic home for the last decade, and where Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had its 2009 New York premiere in concert form before moving to a full production there, and then to Broadway.
“Michael Friedman was one of the most brilliant, multi-talented theater artists of our time,” said Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis. “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.”
“Michael brought so much joy and beauty and humor to our lives,” said his sister Marion Friedman Young. “To lose him so soon is devastating. We are so grateful to the people who loved him, made art with him, and were so supportive of his work, and made it possible for Michael’s extraordinary gifts to reach so many people.”
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was a collaboration between Friedman and book-author and director Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love, Rocky) and their theater collective, Les Freres Corbusier, that took a gleeful, rock-and-roll sledgehammer to the story of the U.S.’ seventh president, in which he was portrayed as a hip-thrusting, charismatic, ethically challenged and avaricious pop star; he was played both at the Public and on Broadway by Benjamin Walker. It was workshopped at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and had its world premiere in 2008 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
The Public presented it first in a concert staging in May 2009 and then a full production in its largest venue, the Newman Theater, where it ran from March 23 through June 27, 2010. The reviews were generally ecstatic, and a move to Broadway was envisioned. Still championed by critics, it failed to catch fire at the box office and its run at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre closed January 2, 2011 after a disappointing run of just 94 post-preview performances.
Friedman had just completed a season as artistic director of Encores! Off-Center at New York City Center. He was a co-founder of The Civilians and artist-in-residence and director of Public Forum at the Public. He wrote a rollicking score for the Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, as well as a hugely underappreciated adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel Fortress of Solitude with book writer Itamar Moses (The Band’s Visit).
Friedman worked with a broad array of companies in New York and around the country, including the Signature Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop and the Roundabout Theatre Company, as well as the Dallas Theatre Center, Berkeley Rep and the American Repertory Theatre, among many others.
With The Civilians, he wrote music and lyrics for Canard Canard Goose, Gone Missing, Nobody’s Lunch, This Beautiful City, In the Footprint and The Great Immensity, and music for Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns. With Steve Cosson, he is the co-author of Paris Commune (BAM Next Wave Festival). Among his many awards was an Obie for sustained achievement.
In addition to his sister, Friedman is survived by his parents Carolyn and John Friedman and his nephew John Henry Young. And everyone involved in the creation of musical theater.