Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Composers of Broadway musicals and film songs. Composer John Kander (b 18 March 1927, Kansas City MO) led pit bands, arranged music for shows Gypsy '59 and Irma la Douce '56 (the latter one of the few French shows to become an international hit since the 19th century); he began collaborating '65 with writer, librettist and lyricist Fred Ebb (b 8 April, NYC; d 11 Sept. 2004; the funeral home said he was 76 years old) on Flora, The Red Menace, which survived a while solely because it starred Liza Minnelli. They wrote the smash hit Cabaret '66, based on John Van Druten's play I Am A Camera, in turn based on stories by Christopher Isherwood; it was directed by Harold Prince and starred Joel Grey, Jack Gilford, Lotte Lenya and Jill Haworth; the '72 film was directed by Bob Fosse (who won an Oscar), retained Grey and starred Minnelli. The Happy Time '68 starred Robert Goulet and was promoted by producer David Merrick; Zorba later the same year was based on the Nikos Kazantzakis novel, got a good production from Harold Prince and an excellent Herschel Bernardi in the title role. 70, Girls, 70 '71 was a jolly show with a good cast (including Hans Conried) which only lasted five weeks; Liza '74 was a one-woman show for Minnelli (23 performances); Chicago '75 starred Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera (including song 'And All That Jazz'). In The Act '77 there was a scandal when it was realized that Minnelli had pre-recorded songs and was mouthing them on stage. Woman Of The Year '81 starred Lauren Bacall.

They also worked on films Funny Lady '75 (Barbra Steisand), flop A Matter Of Time '76 (with Minnelli and Ingrid Bergman) and New York, New York '77, directed by Martin Scorsese, with Minnelli and Robert DeNiro: almost a masterpiece, but a bit too long and too unctuous. (Its title song was made into a standard by Frank Sinatra.) Further shows were The Rink '84 with Minnelli and Rivera (though Rivera had more talent, the show folded when Minnelli left), Kiss Of The Spider Woman '93 with Rivera, directed by Prince, from the novel by Manuel Puig, and Steel Pier '97, a depressing story about the marathon dancers of the '30s (the music is probably better than the show). Chicago was a hit when revived in New York; Ute Lemper starred in the London production '97, and the movie in 2002 was a huge success: with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Rivera, Queen Latifa and Richard Gere, it was nominated for 13 Oscars and won six: best picture (Martin Richards, producer), best supporting actress (Zeta-Jones), art direction, costume design, film editing, and sound.

Kander and Ebb had worked together almost every day for many years, one of those teams so intuitive as to be impossible to understand from the outside, but Kander has kept on, continuing to develop their old material as well as working on new things. The Visit was based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1956 satirical play about greed and revenge; it was to star Angela Lansbury but she had to back out, and was launched in October 2001 in Chicago with Rivera. It seemed to be a success but did not move to Broadway after the spectacular crime of 9/11 that year. Another planned production fell through, but a revamped version played at the well-known regional Signature Theatre in Arlington WV in May-June 2008, again with Rivera, and was well received. A non-musical comedy-whodunit, Curtains, was a hit in a short run with David Hyde Pierce, who won a Tony; it closed in June 2008 in NYC. A musical based on Thornton Wilder's By The Skin of Our Teeth was found wanting in 2007; work continued on The Minstrel Show, about the Scottsborough boys, young black men falsely accused of raping a white girl in Alabama in 1931.