Michael Friedman, who shot to fame with the provocative musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” died of AIDS-related causes just days before his new show was to open at the Children’s Theatre. He was 41.
Friedman wrote the music and lyrics for “The Abominables,” a hockey-themed show that was commissioned by the Children’s Theatre in 2011 and is opening Friday.
“Michael was an extraordinary artist and an incredible human being,” Children’s Theatre artistic director Peter Brosius said in a statement. “His boundless energy … infectious enthusiasm and his ability to be so fearlessly self-critical and clear-eyed in the pursuit of something truly extraordinary made him utterly unique.”
For the Twin Cities project, Friedman teamed with longtime collaborator Steve Cosson, who wrote the book and is directing “The Abominables.” Both Friedman and Cosson are co-founders of the Civilians, a troupe renowned for doing documentary theater. The production was put together after the creative team had interviewed scores of hockey players, rink rats, coaches and parents across Minnesota.
Friedman won an Obie for sustained excellence in music in 2007. But he is best known for his 2010 “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a rock musical that re-imagines the truculent seventh president as the leader of an emo rock band. The show had its New York premiere at the Public Theatre, transferred to Broadway a year later and was nominated for two Tonys.
The show was met with both praise for its inventiveness and with protests that the musical glorified a figure who ruthlessly dispossessed American Indians.
“Michael Friedman was one of the most brilliant, multitalented theater artists of our time,” Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public, said in a statement. “He was also a miracle of a human being: loving, kind, generous, hilarious, thrilling.”
Friedman’s passing on the eve of the “Abominables” premiere has echoes of the death of another composer two decades ago. On Jan. 25, 1996, Jonathan Larson died the night before the off-Broadway premiere of “Rent.”
Leaders at the Children’s Theatre have high hopes for “The Abominables,” whose run will be dedicated to Friedman.
“He who worked on the show until the very end,” said managing director Kimberly Motes. “The work would be great anyway but there’s a heightened energy to make this show quite special. I think the cast, the theater, everybody is going to rise to this.”