Broadway is a great distance from Bakersfield but die-hard theater fans don't need a first-class plane ticket to get the dish on classic shows. A one-night-only event at a local theater is set to deliver the drama and delight of the New York theater district.
"Broadway: The Golden Age," taking place Saturday at Ovation Theatre, is a lecture and performance by Broadway expert Steven Friedman. In addition to discussing the stories, backstories and maybe a little gossip from well-known plays from the 1950s and '60s, Friedman will also perform songs from them too.
"It's not just a lecture," Friedman said, calling from his hometown of Washington, D.C. "It's three-dimensional. You get the background, the gossip and some music."
Friedman was invited by the folks at Ovation Theatre (which includes his son Hal Friedman, the theater's artistic director). He said the local lecture and performance will touch on Broadway classics like "The Sound of Music," "My Fair Lady" and "Man of La Mancha."
"If they've ever seen a Broadway musical and wanted to know more, this should be where they come to Saturday night," Friedman said of local theater lovers.
While musical theater has long been a passion of Friedman's, it wasn't always his job. After more than 25 years as a sales management lecturer and consultant, Friedman has been able to make a job out of what was previously just his hobby, lecturing on Broadway, Hollywood and pop culture everywhere from Johns Hopkins University (where he's an adjunct faculty member) to cruise ships like Crystal Cruises and Princess Cruises.
"I'm a retired executive but I was always passionate about musical theater," Friedman said, adding that he had a desire to perform but "realized at a young age I couldn't make a living in it."
A classically trained tenor singer who studied with vocal coaches at Carnegie Mellon, Friedman performed in plays like "Camelot," "Sweeney Todd" and "Damn Yankees" but said he hasn't been in a play for 30 years or so, saying he hates rehearsals. ("It drives me crazy. I don't have patience for temperamental people.")
Instead, he transitioned his love of theater from performing to lecturing and studying its history. He wrote "The Ultimate Broadway Musical List Book" last year, and it has since become an Amazon best-seller. The book, which will be available for purchase at the event, is comprised of lists, like "Best Musicals of the 1950s," "10 Best Audition Songs" and "23 Flops that Should Have Been Hits." (Friedman includes on that last list Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" and Sondheim and Richard Rodgers' "Do I Hear a Waltz?")
As with most lists, Friedman's have been subject to people who disagree with what's "best" or what's been left out. Two omissions have sparked some indignation, Friedman said.
"I'm not a 'Wicked' fan, I'm not a fan of the musical 'Rent,'" he said. "I say at the beginning (of the book), these are my opinions. I wanted to create passionate arguments."
In talking about musicals, either in events like the upcoming one here in Bakersfield, those at sea or those in the classroom, Friedman gets to meet other people who love theater as much as he does. That's something he enjoys, even if his opinions differ from theirs.
"I'm the luckiest person on earth," he said. "I had a desire become a hobby that's now become a source of enjoyment for people."
Friedman said he has heard from people who said his lectures brought back childhood memories. At one lecture, a man with Alzheimer's who hadn't spoken in six months shocked those who knew him by singing along with a song Friedman performed.
"People really love to talk about Broadway," he said. "It's an unbelievably special feeling to know I'm giving people something to talk about."