Com­poser and lyri­cist wrote free­wheel­ing ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jack­son’


Michael Fried­man, an Obie Award-win­ning com­poser and lyri­cist known for the mu­si­cals “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jack­son” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” died Sept. 9 in New York. He was 41.

The cause was com­pli­ca­tions from HIV/AIDS, said Oskar Eustis and Pa­trick Willing­ham, the artis­tic and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors of the Pub­lic Theater in Man­hat­tan. Mr. Fried­man was an artist in res­i­dence at the theater and the di­rec­tor of its au­di­ence en­gage­ment pro­gram.

His best-known work was the rock mu­si­cal “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jack­son,” which he cre­ated with writer Alex Tim­bers. The show imag­ines the sev­enth pres­i­dent of the United States as an emo rock star (in the mode of bands such as My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance or Fall Out Boy) and skew­ers Amer­ica’s per­son­al­ity-driven and at times re­ac­tionary pol­i­tics.

Its theme song, “Pop­ulism Yea Yea,” fea­tures the cho­rus: “It’s the early 19th cen­tury / And we’re gonna take this coun­try back / For peo­ple like us who don’t just think about things / Peo­ple who make things hap­pen.”

“Though its style is of­ten as skewed as a tilt-a-whirl ride, ‘Bloody Bloody’ takes pre­ci­sion aim at its cen­tral tar­get: an im­pa­tient elec­torate ruled by a hunger for in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion,” New York Times theater critic Ben Brant­ley wrote in Oc­to­ber 2010 af­ter the mu­si­cal opened on Broad­way in a 120per­for­mance run.

“Mr. Fried­man’s songs, cast in the hip but an­guished mode of bands like Dash­board Con­fes­sional, could be de­scribed as po­stironic,” Brant­ley wrote. “They’re achingly sin­cere, even as they send up aching sin­cer­ity, hot and cool in one breath.”

Mr. Fried­man was also a co­founder of the Civil­ians, an “in­ves­tiga­tive theater” troupe in New York, where he wrote mu­sic for shows in­clud­ing “This Beau­ti­ful City,” about evan­gel­i­cals in Colorado, and “Pretty Filthy,” about the pornog­ra­phy in­dus­try.

His work ranged from the fu­tur­is­tic — “Mr. Burns, a Post-Elec­tric Play,” writ­ten by Anne Wash­burn, imag­ined a group of apoc­a­lyp­tic sur­vivors try­ing to re­mem­ber the plot of an episode of “The Simpsons” — to the clas­si­cally in­spired.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” which pre­miered at New York’s Shake­speare in the Park fes­ti­val in 2013, was Mr. Fried­man’s se­cond ma­jor col­lab­o­ra­tion with Tim­bers. The show, theater critic Hil­ton Als wrote on the New Yorker’s web­site, was “so good on so many lev­els that it makes you ex­cited about not only what the Amer­i­can mu­si­cal can do but how well it re­flects on those pro­duc­ers who sup­port the new, full-out.”

John Michael Fried­man was born in Bos­ton on Sept. 24, 1975, and grew up in Philadel­phia. He stud­ied his­tory and lit­er­a­ture at Har­vard Univer­sity and, af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1997, quickly made his way to New York.

Trained in pi­ano, he be­gan writ­ing mu­sic rel­a­tively late, at 25. He said he did some of his best com­pos­ing while lis­ten­ing to mu­sic on the sub­way.

A com­plete list of sur­vivors was not im­me­di­ately avail­able.

Al­though Mr. Fried­man counted Broad­way clas­sics such as “Carousel” among his fa­vorites, he said that his works such as “Bloody Bloody” were in­flu­enced more by the sub­ver­sive hu­mor of tele­vi­sion’s “The Mup­pet Show.”

The pro­gram, he said at one theater con­fer­ence, “used con­ven­tions of mu­si­cal theater while sub­vert­ing them and mak­ing them a lit­tle ridicu­lous but also mak­ing them won­der­ful. That ten­sion is what makes the best mu­si­cals good: try­ing to sub­vert this while also pay­ing homage to it.”


Com­poser Michael Fried­man also penned the cel­e­brated 2013 mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

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