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Attuned to the Uptown Piano Man

May 14, 2009 By:
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Matthew Friedman -- ideally groomed to play the Piano Man, Billy Joel, on Broadway? Just ask the groom himself.

"Billy invited me to perform at his wedding," says the uptown guy from Long Island -- just like Joel -- who keyed into the keyboards at the 2004 wedding of Joel and Katie Lee.

"I played six hours straight -- I never left the stage -- and Billy joined me on keyboard."

Well, it wasn't the wedding march Friedman played, but a number of Joel hits that have made the boy -- born William Martin Joel a little more than 60 years ago -- a rock 'n' roll icon.

Any advice from the man himself on how to wade through the river of dreams?

"At the time I played his wedding, I didn't have this show yet. But Billy came up to me and said, 'You should have it.' "

He does now.

Hear for yourself as "Movin' Out," Twyla Tharp's thumping tribute to Joel and his music, and the way it moves people, comes here to the Academy of Music for a weekend of performances starting May 15.

On board -- and keyboard: Friedman, who dazzles and details the story through song as dancers design the Tharp/Joel gem and Tony Award-winner through their fancy footwork on stage.

It's a pretty fancy bio that Friedman boasts himself, being one of only 10 to tour or take his turn on Broadway as Joel's alter ego in the musical since it opened in New York seven years ago. Indeed, Friedman's got the number of the music man whose own banner commemorating the number of sold-out shows (46) at the Wachovia Center hangs from the rafters along with flags saluting local athletic legends.

He didn't start the fire -- Friedman, after all, isn't Joel and only plays him on stage -- but was fired up early on by the performer whose Long Island Jewish roots he mirrors and roots for. It's been a "street-life serenade" since first staging "Tell Her About It," at age 15, as part of his high school talent show.

Admire the Piano Man? Tell me about it, says Friedman, who recalls the performance "wearing a sports jacket, jeans and dark glasses" -- the requisite Billy Joel outfit.

The old outfit he worked for had Friedman dressing slightly differently. After all, it's hard to lug a piano around as a lawyer.

Surprise Verdict?

Case closed: "It took three years" to make his decision, says Friedman, who then "gave my law firm four days notice that I was leaving."

Surprise verdict?

"They knew I was pursuing" music as a career, he notes.

After all, the musical muse was nothing new. Friedman's been making his moves on the keyboard game as a key player for 35 years -- "since I was 3," singing, "before I could talk."

The Long Island boy also is a "Jersey Boy," playing keyboard in the orchestra on Broadway when not touring. And he's a Haverford boy, having studied at Haverford College.

But, more than anything, he wants to make his own kind of music, which he does, touring with brothers Daniel, Evan and Cary, carrying on as the Friedman Brothers Band while not banding with others as well.

Song in his heart? Music in his veins: Friedman's written or co-written close to 100 songs.

It all echoes his past, when, as a child, Friedman attended synagogue "and sang a lot," he recalls of early influences.

It's a career that's been dancing along quite well. But ... can't dance. Don't ask him.

"If they needed me to dance on stage," he laughs of leaving the keyboard and hoofing it down to the stage with the other dancers to get it on in "Movin' Out," well, audiences would see some moves they didn't pay for.

That would be some feat: "Let's just say," states the music man of flying fingers, but not feet, "I won't be doing any dancing soon." 

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