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Kander and Ebb

Kander and Ebb

James Leve
With a Foreword by Geoffrey Block
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Kander and Ebb
    Book Description:

    Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb collaborated for more than forty years, longer than any such partnership in Broadway history. Together they wrote over twenty musicals. Their two most successful works,CabaretandChicago, had critically acclaimed Broadway revivals and were made into Oscar-winning films.

    This book, the first study of Kander and Ebb, examines their artistic accomplishments as individuals and as a team. Drawing on personal papers and on numerous interviews, James Leve analyzes the unique nature of this collaboration. Leve discusses their contribution to the concept musical; he examines some of their most popular works includingCabaret, Chicago,andKiss of the Spider Woman; and he reassesses their "flops" as well as their incomplete and abandoned projects. Filled with fascinating information, the book is a resource for students of musical theater and lovers of Kander and Ebb's songs and shows.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15594-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Geoffrey Block

    James leve’sjohn kander and fred ebbfollows john snelson’sAndrew Lloyd Webber(2004) and precedes Kim Kowalke’s forthcomingStephen Sondheimto round out a trio of Yale Broadway Masters volumes devoted to Broadway creators active since the 1960s. Since composer Kander (b. 1927) and lyricist Ebb (1932–2004) worked seamlessly and almost exclusively together for over forty years (usually in the same room), longer than any composer-lyricist team in Broadway history, it is fitting that this volume display shared billing on the marquee. Their twelve Broadway musicals begin in 1965 withFlora, the Red Menace—directed and co-written by...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Fred ebb’s death in 2004 ended the longest composer-lyricist collaboration in the history of musical theater. For nearly forty-two years, Fred Ebb and John Kander literally worked together in the same small room with an old, banged-up spinet piano, writing over twenty musicals, twelve of which opened on Broadway; music for several Hollywood films; and a wide range of specialty material. They won numerous awards and honors, including the Kennedy Center Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Performing Arts.¹ They were among the most resilient Broadway writers of their generation (Kander still is) and continued to write provocative new musicals...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Forty-Two Years of Musicals
    (pp. 12-34)

    John kander and fred ebb were as different from each other as two collaborators could possibly be. Kander grew up in Kansas City, raised by nurturing parents and surrounded by the comforts of a middle-class household.¹ Fred Ebb grew up in New York City. He was the only male child in a dysfunctional and undemonstrative family of modest means. Since the late seventies Kander has lived with his partner, Albert Stephenson, in a modest brownstone on the Upper West Side. For years Ebb bounced between his Manhattan apartment in the San Remo, one of the most desirable residential buildings on...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Divinely Decadent Lives of Cabaret
    (pp. 35-76)

    Cabaret, the ground-breaking musical based on christopher Isherwood’sThe Berlin Stories, takes place in Germany during the rise of Nazism and tells the story of the relationship between a struggling American novelist, Clifford Bradshaw, and an expatriate British nightclub singer, Sally Bowles, who performs in a seedy Berlin cabaret and hopes to be discovered by a film director. In hindsight,Cabaretseems an ideal vehicle for Kander and Ebb’s brittle and self-referential brand of musical theater. It was their first project to fully capitalize on their opposite artistic temperaments. The combination of Ebb’s acerbic wit and Kander’s broad stylistic range...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Chicago: Broadway to Hollywood
    (pp. 77-102)

    When ethan mordden made his dour prediction forchicago, it was 1983 and the Broadway musical as he had known it seemed a thing of the past. He could not have imagined that, twenty-five years later,Chicagowould be playing to sold-out houses on Broadway. Maurine Dallas Watkins’s 1926 playChicago, the source material for the musical, is a prescient satire depicting how the press, in collusion with the American criminal justice, turns criminals into celebrities. Although set in the twenties, her story is as relevant today as it was seventy-five years ago. As of this writing, the 1996 Broadway...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Fred Without John and John Without Fred
    (pp. 103-149)

    Before kander and ebb first met each other in 1962, they each worked with many different writers in the hope of discovering the right partner for a long-term collaboration. When they started working together, they did not yet realize that they had found in each other what they were looking for. There was never a definitive moment in which they consciously agreed to a permanent collaboration. They were simply having too good a time to bother trying to work with anyone else. Ebb even turned down an opportunity to be Richard Rodgers’s lyricist forRex, and Kander refused to work...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Kiss of the Spider Woman: Sex, Politics, and the Diva Musical
    (pp. 150-169)

    In the mid eighties, kander and ebb began working with Manuel Puig on a musical adaptation of his stirring 1976 novelKiss of the Spider Woman. Set entirely in a Buenos Aires prison,Kiss of the Spider Womanis about the relationship between a leftist political prisoner, Valentin, and his apolitical homosexual cellmate, Molina, who has been arrested for “corrupting a minor.” In order to escape the harsh conditions of prison life, Molina, a window designer by profession, describes romantic film plots to Valentin, who at first sees Molina as an annoyance and objects to the fact that his plots...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Flops and Second Chances: Flora, the Red Menace; The Happy Time; Zorbá; 70, Girls, 70; The Rink; and Steel Pier
    (pp. 170-228)

    Reflecting the mixture of idealism and pragmatism of someone who has both produced and directed musicals on Broadway, Hal Prince likes to draw a distinction between a “hit” versus a “success” and a “flop” versus a “failure.” Hit and flop refer to financial return, and success and failure to artistic merit. For Prince, a hit musical does well at the box office and may or may not receive accolades from the press. On the other hand, a success is admired on an artistic level but fails to attract an audience.She Loves Me, a succès d’estime, was a financial flop....

  12. CHAPTER 7 Divas or Anti-Divas?: The Act and The Woman of the Year
    (pp. 229-238)

    In previous chapters we observed how camp and diva worship—in musical theater they are always closely allied—informed the style, themes, and topics of Kander and Ebb’s musicals. These features were not new to musical theater when Kander and Ebb began their career, but they became more pronounced during the early years of their collaboration. Although the composer-lyricist Jerry Herman might be more famously identified with the diva musical, Kander and Ebb stand out for their career-long devotion to specific divas, primarily Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, and Karen Ziemba.¹ Kander and Ebb’s diva musicals encompass a full spectrum of...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Musicals Abandoned and Imagined
    (pp. 239-257)

    No study on kander and ebb would be complete without at least a brief account of the musicals that they either never completed, abandoned for lack of a producer, or considered but could never get off the ground. These projects, almost as many in number as their Broadway musicals, are a treasure trove of Kander and Ebb material and a window into their working method. They replicate many of the aspects of their musicals that we have already observed, such as the dramatic use of presentational songs. Several use framing devices and deal with the sort of themes running throughout...

  14. CHAPTER 9 “A Tough Act to Follow”: Curtains and Three New Shows
    (pp. 258-306)

    During the 2005 tony awards ceremony, chita rivera appeared at the podium to pay tribute to Fred Ebb and the composer Cy Coleman, both of whom had recently passed away. “My two close friends,” she announced, “Fred Ebb and John Kander.” Rivera recovered elegantly from her slip of the tongue by acknowledging how unnatural it was to follow the name Fred Ebb with any name other than John Kander, who happened to be home, alive, and well and watching the awards ceremony. Ironically, Ebb had loved to joke that someday he would ask Cy Coleman to replace John Kander.


  15. Appendix
    (pp. 307-314)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 315-344)
  17. Index
    (pp. 345-362)
  18. Credits
    (pp. 363-365)