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Beautiful Music

Composer Michael Friedman discusses The Civilians' This Beautiful City, about Evangelical communities in Colorado Springs.

By Los Angeles
Stephen Plunkett, Brad Heberlee, and Emily Ackerman
in This Beautiful City
(© Craig Schwartz)
Stephen Plunkett, Brad Heberlee, and Emily Ackerman
in This Beautiful City
(© Craig Schwartz)
"What's going on in the Evangelical communities in America is very important politically and culturally to what's going on in America generally," says Michael Friedman, the composer for The Civilians' This Beautiful City, now playing the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles (and which is scheduled to be produced by New York's Vineyard Theatre next year). The piece is culled from and inspired by a series of interviews that the New York-based avant-garde troupe conducted in Colorado Springs in 2006. "We couldn't have picked a better place to do this project than there, partly because of the way the community works, and partly because while we were there was such an explosive time."

A large part of that explosiveness had to do with the Reverend Ted Haggard, who was ousted from his pulpit at the New Life Church in November of that year after admitting to having sex with a male prostitute. The scandal is part of the Civilians' play, but Friedman says that it's used "as a kind of catalyst event, rather than the main story. We would've followed New Life anyway, no matter what happened."

Friedman's songs are almost all based on the interviews themselves, and incorporate some of the actual language used, while also spanning various musical styles including cowboy songs, worship rock, and country & western. "I don't know any other group that uses music quite as dogmatically as a tool for its documentary theater," he says. "The music stylizes the situation and shows we're taking liberties with the text. We're trying to capture something real from the experience artistically, not only holding up a mirror, but also trying to say something."

The message of This Beautiful City, however, varies depending on who you talk to, says Friedman. "Different audiences read this piece differently," he notes. "While there are certain things we want to get across, we also want to leave some of the questions raised open. Different people come in with different perceptions, and rather than try to create a show in which everyone has the same reaction, we tried to embrace that."


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