Michael Friedman, an Obie-winning composer-lyricist who held numerous leadership positions around New York theatre companies, has died at the age of 41. News of his passing was announced by Off-Broadway's Public Theater, where Friedman served as the director of Public Forum and artist in residence.
Friedman's death on September 9 followed complications with HIV/AIDS.
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 also the composer of The Civilians' inaugural musical, Canard, Canard, Goose? Friedman would go on to serve on the board of directors for the company, which specializes in investigative theatre and using the arts as an outreach initiative.
Earlier this year, Friedman succeeded Jeanine Tesori as artistic director of New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center series. His first season would be the program's only under his leadership: Assassins, The Bubble Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, and Really Rosie.
“Michael Friedman was one of the most brilliant, multi-talented theater artists of our time,” said Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public, in a statement. “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.”
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.
Friedman his survived by parents Carolyn and John, sister Marion Friedman Young, and nephew John Henry Young. Details regarding a memorial will follow.