Composer John Kander had served as conductor and choral director at Rhode Island's Warwick Musical Theatre between 1955 and 1958 during which time he conducted the eight off-Broadway performances of the 1957 revival of Noel Coward's Conversation Piece. He also worked on Broadway as dance music arranger for the 1959 production of Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne's Gypsy, followed by David Merrick's 1960 staging of the musical comedy Irma La Douce. With lyricist (and screenwriter) John Goldman he made his compositional Broadway debut at the Billy Rose Theatre in 1962 with A Family Affair, and while the show was a modest success it was only when Kander began collaborating with lyricist Fred Ebb that his career really took off. After graduating from Columbia University (the alma mater of such songwriters as Richard Rogers, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II) Fred Ebb was introduced to composer Phil Springer and the pair worked out of New York's legendary Brill Building and co-wrote the song 'Heartbroken' for Judy Garland in 1953. They also composed several other songs including 'I Never
Loved Him Anyhow', 'Moonlight Gambler' and 'Nevertheless I Never Lost The Blues'. When Kander and Ebb started collaborating among their first compositions were 'My Coloring Book' and 'I Don't Care Much' both of which were recorded by Barbra Streisand on 1963's The Second Barbra Streisand Album.
The duo's first Broadway score also saw the debut of an artist with who they would have a long and successful association with, throughout their careers. 1965's Flora, The Red Menace starred Liza Minnelli and ran for eighty-seven performances at the Alvin Theatre (which became the Neil Simon Theatre in 1977) and won the singer her first Tony Award. Their next show was the one that would truly launch their career into the sky; Cabaret opened on Broadway in November 1966 and with a cast including Joel Grey, Lotte Lenya, Jack Gilford, Jill Haworth and Bert Convy the production won a staggering eight Tony Awards for; Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Joel Grey), Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Peg Murray), Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design and Best Costume Design. When the show was turned into a movie by Bob Fosse in 1972 it starred Liza Minnelli; her friendship with Kander & Ebb had resulted in them putting her forward for the part, and featured two new songs 'Money Money' and Mein Herr' that they composed especially with her in mind. It was a phenominal success, The movie won eight Oscars, seven BAFTA's and a Golden Globe while Minnelli's inspired performance garnered her an Oscar. When she came to stage her television special Liza With A 'Z' later that same year she naturally turned to her old friends. Reuniting the star, the director and the writers of Cabaret, the show was produced by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, directed and choreographed by Fosse and with the music written and arranged by Kander & Ebb it won an Emmy Award while the resulting album Liza With A 'Z' went on to win a Grammy.
Now established and renowned songwriters, the duo enjoyed more Broadway success with The Happy Time (1968), Zorba (1968) (for which Ebb won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics), 70, Girls, 70 (1971) and 1975's Broadway smash Chicago which ran for 936 performances and
introduced one of their most famous songs 'All That Jazz'. They also had success with movie musicals including Barbra Streisand's Funny Girl (1975) which
featured six of their songs, and three Liza Minnelli films; Lucky Lady (1976), A Matter Of Time (1976) and New York, New York (1977), the latter yielding the classic title track which became famously popularised by Frank Sinatra towards the end of his career. Even on their return to Broadway their association with Minnelli continued, and she starred in both The Act (1977) and The Rink (1984) sandwiched between the Lauren Bacall show Woman Of The Year (1981).
The pair's achievements continued throughout the 90s, they staged their own off-Broadway musical revue And The World Goes Round in 1991, launched Kiss Of The Spider Woman in London's West End in 1993 before an award winning production opened on Broadway the following year. In 1996 a revival of Chicago surpassed its initial triumphs and with six Tony Awards went on to become Broadway's longest running revival while the 2002 film version starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere was a critical and commercial success, garnering six Oscars, three Golden Globes and two BAFTA Awards. Despite a rare miss with 1997's Steel Pier, Kander & Ebb enjoyed a couple of regional successes before their final Broadway hit Curtains opened in 2006. Sadly Ebb didn't live to see the show having died of a heart attack in September 2004. Although less prolific than many of the great Broadway musical songwriting teams the duo's legacy was confirmed by the phenomenal success of Cabaret and Chicago while the timeless song 'New York, New York' is a bona fide swing classic that has been covered by dozens of artists and embraced as the theme by the city it celebrates.
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