From New York to Hollywood, David Friedman has done it all, including serving as music director for the Broadway productions of Beauty and the Beast and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and as arranger and conductor for several animated Disney films, such as Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. As if that were not enough, Friedman has written songs for Diana Ross, Barry Manilow, Petula Clark, Leslie Uggams and more.
For four nights this spring – April 29-May 2 – The University of Tulsa Department of Theatre & Musical Theatre staged a virtual production of Friedman’s Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman. Based on his songbook collection of the same name, this musical revue extravaganza debuted in Manhattan at Upstairs at Studio 54 in October 2003.
TU’s airing of Listen to My Heart was directed by Machele Dill, the director of TU’s musical theatre program. “David is a dear friend of mine and kindly allowed us the rights to produce his wonderful musical,” Dill noted. “I did this show 15 years ago with David and I’ve toured with it. In fact, this show was how I got my Actor’s Equity Association card.”
As they prepared for opening night, Dill and the student actors referred to Friedman as “our artist-not-in-residence.” Not only did Friedman provide virtual coaching for the students to help them get ready, he even did a few numbers in the performance itself.
“An incredibly unique experience”
Emily Jane Peterson and X’Zauvea Gadlin were two of the cast members. Peterson is a senior majoring in musical theatre and completing a minor in creative writing. For this production, Peterson performed several songs, including both group numbers and solos. Gadlin, a junior double-majoring in history and education, with a minor in African American history, performed as one of the voices inside Friedman’s head. He had four solos and took part in a number of group songs.
While Peterson was initially a bit skeptical about a song cycle for the spring musical, hearing the Listen to My Heart soundtrack quickly banished her reservations. “I immediately fell in love with several of the numbers,” Peterson recalled. “Specifically, ‘My Simple Wish’ and ‘As Long as I Can Sing,’ which I was lucky enough to get to perform.”
Unlike Peterson, performing in Listen to My Heart was a new experience for Gadlin. “I had never done anything quite like this before,” he commented. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a quality performer, someone who would make the show worth watching and enjoying.” But apart from the rehearsals and the recordings, Gadlin found that “it was the time I spent hanging out with the cast and everyone else in the Department of Theatre that made being involved with this show so memorable. Taking part in the spring production enabled me to meet a group of people who accept each other and support each other. I’m forever grateful for that.”
For Peterson, a highlight was the opportunity to work one-on-one with David Friedman. “This was an incredibly unique experience to get to talk directly with the mind behind the show and discuss with him exactly how I could best bring the characters that he had created to life. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to take my experience with live theatre and learn how to adapt it to the camera and recording studio.”
After graduation, Peterson is looking forward to a technical theatre internship with the Broadway in Bixby Bootcamp, teaching students the ins and outs of tech theatre. “I have no doubt that theatre will always be a part of my life, because theatre, for the most part, is my life,” Peterson said. “My goal has of course always been to perform on a Broadway stage, but I’d be happy to just be able to perform and make theatre happen for as long as I can.”
Meantime, Listen to My Heart clearly planted a performance seed in Gadlin’s heart. While he hopes to become a teacher/football coach at a high school back in Texas, “I would love to keep performing in whatever capacity that could be. One thing I do know is that this show won’t be my last time on stage, God willing.”