BWW Interview: Max Friedman Talks Bringing Unique Spin to Cabaret with Charlie Rosen's Broadway Big Band
It's approaching midnight. You walk down a narrow set of stairs into a dimly-lit, yet elegant space that is surprisingly more intimate than you imagined. The guys and dolls in the crowd are dressed to impress. You order a martini, dirty of course, and unwind as only New Yorkers can; with a Broadway star, fresh off an evening performance, crooning your favorite standards, backed by a collection of some of the city's best jazz musicians. However, this isn't a 40s era noir film, it is the vibe you get at a Charlie Rosen's Broadway Big Band show, one of New York's most unique blends of traditional cabaret and modern Broadway.
"(It's) really exciting to see people our age duck into a booth, you just feel like you're in a different time," Max Friedman, Broadway Big Band's director, said. "I always get the sense that it feels like going and seeing your favorite Broadway performer in a little speakeasy on 54th Street."
This Saturday, October 10th at 9:30pm, Friedman and Rosen are bringing the 10th Edition of the Broadway Band to Feinstein's/54 Below, and as always, they are bringing a collection of some of Broadway's brightest young stars to put unique, jazz spins on some of the theatre's most beloved showtunes. In addition to returning performers Gerard Canonico, Hannah Elless, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Janet Krupin, Lauren "LOLO" Pritchard, and Ciara Renee, they will also be welcoming first time collaborators Nicholas Christopher and Ben Platt.
"Ben blew me away in DEAR EVAN HANSEN this summer, and I knew we had to get him when he got back to New York," Friedman said. "I've known Nick for years and we've always wanted to work together, and now he's in between doing a show by Sherie Rene Scott and one (by) David Bowie. I'm such a fan of both of those guys, of our whole cast really, and I can't wait to hear what they bring to the mix."
At Friedman's 22nd birthday party, he and Rosen decided to pursue an idea of bringing something new to New York's cabaret scene that blended some of the community's older traditions with the theatre's brightest new singers.
"We did a lot of research to make sure that we had come up with something original, of putting this young generation of Broadway singers in front of a full-size jazz orchestra to perform these classic showtunes," Friedman said; and while the concept seems like a perfect fit for the city, they found that there had been a void in the cabaret scene for decades.
"You always heard people like Elaine Stritch, or even as late as in the 80s, Patti LuPone, talk about after curtain, running to do a cabaret," Friedman said, "and now that (opportunity) is back thanks to 54 Below, and thanks to Jen Tepper (54 Below's Director of Programming). It is such an amazing location for this younger generation to reach an audience in a different way than just eight times a week in their Broadway show.
"We've had Daniel Breaker a bunch of times, and he truly is running from THE BOOK OF MORMON up five blocks to sing Charlie's arrangement of Sia's 'Chandelier,'" Friedman continued, "and it just totally feels like you're in a different time."
What makes the Broadway Big Band unique is that it combines two extremely popular worlds that are rarely seen together on a cabaret stage. Jazz has been a staple of the city's cultural scene almost since the birth of the genre, and while Broadway performers regularly do solo shows at 54 Below, Joe's Pub, Birdland, and many other venues around town, rarely are these two quintessentially New York art forms merged.
"We always try to incorporate eight to 10 really amazing vocalists, to go with our 17 musicians," Friedman explained. "We work tirelessly to keep our material fresh so that if you come to three Broadway Big Band shows in a row, you don't hear the same songs."
While Friedman and Rosen like to keep their set lists secret before show time, Friedman did let slip that there will be some exciting new numbers, as well as some of the band's classics.
"Janet Krupin is opening the show with an iconic Leonard Bernstein classic that I came up with and Charlie totally reimagined; I think it's truly going to take people's breath away," Friedman teased. "We are (also) bringing back our famous HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING medley, which was sort of made famous by Nick Blaemire, and somebody else is going to put a fresh spin on it this time around."
For Friedman, who also works as a theatrical director, working on a cabaret allows him to flex creative muscles that he might not have the ability to on other projects. "It's a really different job every day, and that's kind of one of the things that I love most about what I do" he said. "Every project requires a different set of my skills. With Big Band, it's a lot of just making sure people feel comfortable, and getting them material that really serves them well. And then a lot of times, it turns into live event directing, like tapping people on the shoulder and saying, 'You're up next.'"
While preparing for Saturday's Broadway Big Band show, since the beginning of this week, Friedman has directed two concert versions of new musicals, and after the show this weekend, he will focus on directing a staged reading of a new musical on October 19th. Needless to say, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"These are the years to not sleep, and to pound the pavement, and to work hard, and to build good relationships, and I am very fortunate that I have the opportunity to do those things," Friedman said. "Charlie gives me the opportunity to put so many of my favorite showtunes into the hands of my favorite performers, and for that I will always be grateful."
Don't miss out on the opportunity to see thrilling, unique performances from some of the theatre's most talented up-and-coming stars backed by an incredible jazz band. You can purchase tickets to Saturday's Charlie Rosen's Broadway Big Band show at the 54 Below website.
What Broadway classic would you like to see Charlie and Max tackle next? Do you have a performer in mind that would be perfect for the tune? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt. If you want to follow along with my "366 in 366" articles, you can check out #BWW366in366 on Twitter.Charlie Rosen's YouTube Channel