Michael Friedman
Illustration of Michael Friedman
Illustration of Michael Friedman by Joey Stocks for The Dramatist

I first met Michael in college—we were both involved in an undergraduate production of Six Degrees of Separation. Michael was the Stage Manager. I vividly remember him, stationed in the wings, headset half falling off, in charge of making sure the show happened, and that we all made our entrances on time. The problem with this—besides the obvious fact that Michael was not cut out for stage management—was that it was so much fun to hang out with Michael in the wings, you never really wanted to make your entrance. Nothing was more dramatic or fascinating than standing in the dark, talking with Michael, until the very last minute when he’d shove you onstage, into the light.

Of course, over the many years since, Michael pushed so many of his friends and collaborator —in so many ways—out into the light. Believing in us, championing us, writing music for us, or just listening closely enough to hear the music that was already there. He was such a good friend, it was easy to take for granted his great talent—perhaps because he wore it with such humility, always kind enough to pretend we were all as smart as he was. Anything you needed, Michael would give—hours of advice on life, work, or both, a song for a wedding or birthday. He even wrote a song for my very first attempt at a play. The song, “Cats Kill,” was a brilliant riff on Andrew Lloyd Webber, in which the Jellicle Cats find and maul to death a small child. Years later, he asked me to write a musical with him and the theatre company, The Civilians, about the adult entertainment industry, based on our extensive research into porn. In a world where people are often looked at as objects, Michael listened with empathy, and told their stories without condescension, with intelligence and heart.

The show we made, Pretty Filthy, had an innate mix of highbrow and lowbrow that I realize as I think about it, was truly a defining characteristic of Michael’s aesthetic. Michael could talk about classical music and opera and music theory and a million things I didn’t understand… And he also could write a perfect pop song or talk to you about any element of pop culture, quoting Rhianna or calling you breathlessly to discuss some NY Post headline you hadn’t even seen yet. Speaking of highbrow/lowbrow, he was equally comfortable with cultural elite or with—well, porn stars—able to integrate himself seamlessly into any context. From this description, it might sound like I am describing a chameleon, but Michael was not transforming to fit in—he was always singularly, irrepressibly Michael, unafraid to challenge any fusty intellectual with a sudden torrent of pure passion, or to talk political or cultural theory with, for example, a porn star. How he was able to stay completely “himself” and yet fit in everywhere just one of Michael’s many magic tricks, a feat that defies logic or explanation, much like the incomprehensible, extraordinary, incandescent magic trick that was Michael himself.

Michael Friedman (1975-2017) was an Obie award-winning songwriter who wrote music and lyrics for Bloody Bloody Andrew JacksonThe Fortress of Solitude, Saved, Gone Missingand more. He joined the Guild in 2016.

Bess Wohl
Bess Wohl

plays include Grand Horizons (Tony Nominations for Best Play and Best Featured Actress, Broadway, Outer Critics Circle Honor, Drama League Award nom), Make Believe (NYTimes Critic Pick, Best of 2019, Outer Critics Circle Honor), Continuity, Small Mouth Sounds (John Gassner Outer Critics Circle Award, top ten lists in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Guardian, and others), American Hero, Barcelona, Touched, In, Cats Talk Back, and the musical Pretty Filthy with composer/lyricist Michael Friedman and The Civilians (Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Musical).