Michael Friedman, a theatrical songwriter who died in 2017 at just 41, left behind a chorus of grieving friends and family. He also left a lot of music.
Now a theater company and a record label with which he long collaborated are planning to release nine albums of his unrecorded music, attempting to cement his distinctive place in the canon.
“Relatively soon after Michael’s passing we realized we wanted to come together and be able to do something to preserve his music and to make it available to more people,” said Steve Cosson, the artistic director of the Civilians, the theater company. Cosson said he hoped that the cast recordings would encourage other companies to stage shows with Friedman songs.
On Friday, Ghostlight Records is releasing the first three albums from “The Michael Friedman Collection” for digital download and on streaming services. They are recordings of three shows: “The Great Immensity,” about climate change; “This Beautiful City,” about evangelicals, and “The Abominables,” about youth hockey (and a yeti).
The nine albums will be mostly Civilians shows, but will also include some songs that Friedman wrote for cabaret events, and possibly some written for The New Yorker Radio Hour about the last presidential campaign. Friedman also left behind work on several unfinished shows; Cosson said the future of that material depends in part on the living collaborators for those projects. (In February, the Off Broadway theater Playwrights Horizons is staging one such show, “Unknown Soldier,” which Friedman wrote with Daniel Goldstein.)
Ghostlight has long celebrated Friedman’s work, and has previously recorded his scores for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “The Fortress of Solitude,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Pretty Filthy” and “Gone Missing.”
“He was such a vital composer, and there’s so much honesty in his work,” said Kurt Deutsch, a founder and president of Ghostlight Records. “When you look at this incredible body of work, it’s rewarding to know people are going to be able to learn from him and listen to him.”
The albums are new recordings, created in the studio with a mix of original cast members and new performers.
Cosson said the recording project, which has been financed by fund-raising from Friedman’s friends and collaborators, has been an emotional experience.
“The recording project itself is celebratory — people who were close to Michael and loved him and the work that he did, doing our best to give them the best expression possible, is a joyful experience,” he said. “But of course that’s mixed with the grief we all have for the loss of Michael, which is just part of reality now.”
Michael Paulson is the theater reporter. He previously covered religion, and was part of the Boston Globe team whose coverage of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. @MichaelPaulson
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