Yet the night before, Kander sauntered to the front of the small Vineyard Theatre stage in downtown Manhattan and introduced the audience to his newest musical, “The Landing.” At his side, representing colossal change, was 34-year-old Greg Pierce — the first writing partner Kander has worked with after more than four decades with Ebb.
John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Broadway hits and misses
Even folks without the gene that hitches humans to musical theater have a clue about how spectacularly the Kander and Ebb partnership worked out. Chances are you can hum along, old chum, with such national anthems as “Cabaret” and “New York, New York.” You’ve probably seen the ageless “Chicago” onstage somewhere in the world — the revival of that 1975 musical has been grinding on Broadway since 1996 — or in its 2002 Oscar-winning movie form.
You can probably hear Liza Minnelli belting the kind of triumphant Kander and Ebb showstoppers that Kander labeled “screamers” (“Maybe This Time,” “And the World Goes ’Round”). Maybe you can even picture Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera or Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking slithering and snapping like Jazz Age vamps to Bob Fosse choreography.
Until Ebb’s sudden death in 2004, Kander and Ebb meant a whole lot of showbiz heaven.
Their fabled career will be celebrated at the Kennedy Center starting Friday in “First You Dream,” a revue featuring six singers and a 23-piece orchestra (up slightly from its brief 2009 premiere at Eric Schaeffer’s Signature Theatre across the river in Shirlington). “A gold mine” is how director and co-conceiver Schaeffer describes the Kander and Ebb catalogue; Schaeffer says the revue includes songs from each Kander and Ebb musical (“Zorba,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” etc.), plus movie numbers they wrote for “New York, New York” and “Funny Lady.”
Finishing what he started
If it’s only now that Kander is moving into the post-Ebb phase of his career, it’s because he had to finish the shows they had in the pipeline. Four projects — “The Visit,” “All About Us,” “Curtains” and “The Scottsboro Boys” — were far enough along for Kander to see them through.
David Loud, the longtime musical director for Kander and Ebb shows and the co-conceiver with Schaeffer of “First You Dream,” says: “Fred was the one who wanted the New York success and worked his contacts and made sure the shows were produced. All of a sudden, it was John who was doing that.”
“All About Us” was the rewrite of “Over and Over,” the adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “Skin of Our Teeth” that premiered at Signature in 1999. (The show received several regional productions, but recently the rights reverted back to the Wilder estate.) “Curtains,” a comic mystery about a detective who happens to love musicals, became a Broadway hit in 2007-08. That show earned David Hyde Pierce, Greg Pierce’s uncle, a Tony Award, and also featured Kander’s lament for Ebb, “I Miss the Music.”