BWW Album Review: Ghostlight Records and The Civilians Kick Off THE MICHAEL FRIEDMAN COLLECTION with Three Gems
Prolific theatrical songwriter Micheal Friedman died at age 41 from AIDS related complications in 2017. Having crafted the scores for BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson, THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, PRETTY FILTHY, and more, his passing left many bereft as the theater community recognized his vibrant creativity was snuffed out too soon.
To preserve his legacy and work, Ghostlight Records is partnering with The Civilians to record nine albums of Friedman's previously unrecorded music for THE Michael Friedman COLLECTION. This past October, the first trio of albums was released: THE ABOMINABLES, THE GREAT IMMENSITY, and THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY. Each album features a mix of original cast and studio cast members to showcase Friedman's whimsy, humor, political acuity, and captivating artistry.
THE ABOMINABLES is a delightfully amusing and satirical musical parable about the rigors of youth hockey. The effervescent music bops along, telling the story of Mitch who gets bumped from the A team to the B team by Harry, who happens to be a Yeti. Originally performed at Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis in 2017, the carefree and casual pop score is laden with sugary, bubblegum hooks that easily appeal to the imagination. However, this show shouldn't be written off as simple kid's theatre. Friedman's lyrics vacillate between being tender and heartfelt, charming and comical, and bitingly sardonic. The intellectual humor present in the writing easily appeals to adults, allowing them to chortle at the meanings dancing below the shimmering surface of the piece. Vocally, Gerard Canonico delivers a striking performance as Harry, making songs like "Yeti Prayer" and "Crouching Harry, Hidden Yeti" true standout moments on the album. Tapping into the zany, whimsical nature of the piece, Audrey Bennett on "I Am the Princess of Everything Else" and Brian Charles Rooney on "The Curse of The Blizzards" offer delightful studies in character and charisma. THE Michael Friedman COLLECTION: THE ABOMINABLES can be purchased from Ghostlight Records by clicking here.
THE GREAT IMMENSITY, a thriller that spans the globe, kind of plays out like a postcard from the future. The ecologically focused plotline follows Phyllis as she discovers something is amiss regarding the upcoming international climate summit in Paris while chasing after her husband, who went missing from a tropical island while on assignment for a nature show. Drawing on different sonic modalities, this piece is somewhat reminiscent - tonally - of BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson. "ClimateSummit Suite: Stockholm 1972, Rio 1992, Kyoto 1997, Copenhagen 2009, Warsaw 2013" is a nice espionage laden tango, "Martha, the Last Pigeon/The Golden Lemur" is a beguiling vaudeville-esque character song, "Snowplow" comes to life with a springy pop beat, and "The Great Immensity" charms with resplendent sea shanty vibes. Again, Friedman showcases intelligence and a deft understanding of how to make the deeply intellectual broadly funny with rib-tickling lyrics that drive home pressing messages about the dangers of climate change while also being entertaining. THE Michael Friedman COLLECTION: THE GREAT IMMENSITY can be purchased from Ghostlight Records by clicking here.
THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, and co-written by Steve Cosson and Jim Lewis from interviews conducted by the original company (Emily Ackerman, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brad Heberlee, Stephen Plunkett, and Alison Weller) explores the Evangelical movement in Colorado Springs at the moment that the battle over gay marriage led to the sensational revelation about New Life Church's politically influential pastor Ted Haggard having a secret life of gay sex and crystal meth. With the docu-musical vibe alive and well, this recording is reminiscent of PRETTY FILTHY. The musical styles are all rooted in contemporary musical theater's aural landscape and features many songs as monologues. With a gentle country twang and a hearty nasal timbre, Marsha Stephanie sings about how the Evangelical movement drew people into their fold with "Whatever." Alison Weller captivates and warns that the end is coming with tangible worry pouring from a concerned and caring heart on "End Times." Tackling the anthemic "Demons" with aplomb, Conor Ryan and Weller make this particular track a true gem on the album. Emily Ackerman's beautiful rendition of "Freedom" is spellbinding and moving, showcasing the desire of the Evangelical to do right by people through prayer and love. THE Michael Friedman COLLECTION: THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY can be purchased from Ghostlight Records by clicking here.
With six more albums planned in THE Michael Friedman COLLECTION, Ghostlight Records and The Civilians are off to a wonderful start. Each of these works is a shining testament to the brilliance of Friedman. Preserving his scores and making them more accessible will hopefully only serve to ensure that more productions occur and more people can be exposed to his thought-provoking, necessary, and meaningful art.