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Kander and Ebb


Formed: 1962, New York, New York

Members: Fred Ebb, lyricist (born New York, New York, 18 March 1932); John Harold Kander, composer (born Kansas City, Missouri, 18 March 1927).

Genre: Musical Theater

Best-selling album since 1990: Chicago: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture (2002)

Since collaborating on the first of a long string of musicals in the early 1960s, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb became Broadway's most notable songwriting team. Their work specializes in spotlighting social and political themes in period settings. Kander and Ebb gained increased recognition when their signature stage musical, Chicago, was transformed into an Oscar-winning film and best-selling movie soundtrack. They are the longest-running music-and-lyric partnership in Broadway theater history.

Although Kander and Ebb's talents and sensibilities complement one another perfectlyonly rarely have they worked separately since meeting in 1962their backgrounds differ greatly. Kander grew up in the Midwest where his parents worked in the poultry business. He received piano lessons at an early age, continued his studies at Oberlin College, and in 1954 received a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University. By the mid-1950s, Kander worked consistently in New York as a pianist, often playing at Broadway auditions and helping with other preshow production. His first significant work came in 1960 when choreographer/director Jerome Robbins hired him to score dances for the Broadway show Gypsy. Kander had impressed the impulsive Robbins while accompanying performers during the show's auditions. In 1962 Kander scored the music for his first Broadway show, A Family Affair, which fared poorly but garnered Kander excellent notices within the industry.

Ebb was born and raised in New York City by a family with little interest in music or the arts. His father died suddenly when Ebb was fourteen years old, leaving his mother and him in financial straights. However, Ebb did well in school (he was the valedictorian of DeWitt Clinton High School) and went on to both New York University and Columbia in literary pursuits. After failing to get his short stories optioned for Hollywood movies, Ebb returned to New York and started writing for nightclub revues and a television show titled That Was the Week That Was. He also wrote lyrics for composer Phil Springer. Their most notable songs were "Heartbroken," recorded by Judy Garland, and "Santa Baby," which actress Eartha Kit turned into a hit. Prior to meeting Kander, Ebb had just written the lyrics for his first show, an off-Broadway musical called Morning Sun. Like Kander's first effort, it failed miserably.

Kander and Ebb's first Broadway show was Flora, the Red Menace (1965) with seventeen-year-old Liza Minnelli in the lead and making her Broadway debut. The show did poorly, but Minnelli received a Tony Award for her performance and the cast album sold well. Not only were Kander and Ebb cemented as a team, but they also formed a professional and congenial relationship with Minnelli that still exists. They went on to create stellar songs for other female stars such as Barbra Streisand, Lauren Bacall, Gwen Verdon, and Chita Rivera. Their next Broadway show, Cabaret (1966), set in Berlin, Germany, during the rise of Nazism, elevated Kander and Ebb as Broadway's premier songwriting team. Directed by Harold Prince, the show was a smash success that ran for 1,166 performances. Adapted into a hit film by Bob Fosse in 1972, it won eight Academy Awards. Cabaret was revived on Broadway in 1998, and the new production continued its successful, award-winning run into the new millennium.

Kander and Ebb proceeded to write the songs for many Broadway shows, including The Happy Time (1968), Zorba (1968), 70 Girls 70 (1971), Chicago (1975), The Act (1977), Woman of the Year (1981), The Rink (1984), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992), and Steel Pier (1997). They also composed for films, television specials, and off-Broadway productions. Their "New York, New York," written for the film New York, New York (1976), starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro, became a signature song for legendary crooner Frank Sinatra.

In 1996 one of their most cherished musicals, Chicago, a play about celebrity-seeking murderesses in prohibition-era Chicago, was revived on Broadway to rave reviews. Due to high-profile court cases such as the O. J. Simpson murder case in 19941995, Chicago 's cynical look at the American justice system played far better in 1996 than it did in 1975. The play's successit entered its seventh year on Broadway in November 2002rekindled late-1970s plans to adapt the show into a film. Chicago (the film) opened in late 2002 to resounding praise. It won six Oscars at the 2003 Academy Awards, including the coveted award for Best Picture. Additionally, Kander and Ebb's soundtrack to the film sold extremely well. Along with the same songs from the Broadway production ("Class" was cut from the film, but included on the soundtrack), the film soundtrack also includes an extra Kander and Ebb composition, "I Move On," sung as a duet by the film's leading ladies, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. Chicago's catchy melodies and clever, often wry lyrics encompass much of what is special about Kander and Ebb's work.

Their much-hyped Steel Pier (1997) closed after a disappointingly short run of seventy-six performances. However, Kander and Ebb, veterans of the fickle ways of Broadway theater, simply moved on to the next project. In 1999 they staged a presentation of Over and Over at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, a new musical based on the play The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder. They are currently preparing the music for the upcoming premier of the Broadway musical The Visit, scheduled to premier in 2004.

Kander and Ebb were honored in 1998 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Kennedy Center Honors. As Broadway leans more toward revivals or adaptations of hit film and television shows, Kander and Ebb remain vestiges of an earlier era when musicals were created by an original idea from the ground up.


Flora, the Red Menace (RCA Victor, 1965); Cabaret (Columbia, 1967); Zorba (Capitol, 1969); 70 Girls 70 (Sony, 1971); Chicago (Arista, 1975); Woman of the Year (Arista, 1981); The Rink (TER, 1984); And the World Goes 'Round (RCA Victor, 1991); An Evening with Kander and Ebb (DRG, 1992); Kiss of the Spider Woman (RCA Victor, 1993); Steel Pier (RCA Victor, 1997). Soundtracks: New York, New York (EMI, 1977); Chicago: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture (Sony, 2002).

donald lowe

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