On May 4, 2009, at the Gerald Schoenfedl Theatre, took place the Kander and Ebb concert “Come to the Cabaret: A Celebration of Kander and Ebb”. Directed by John Doyle it featured an all star cast: Chita Rivera, Raul Esparza, David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk, Tom Wopat, Karen Ziemba, Julia Murney and Terrence McNally.
At the time “Playbill On-line (Andrew Gans) thought that it was appropriate to ask some of that evening's participants to recall memories about working with the famed songwriting duo.“ So, it makes sense to share those memories in this blog.
Chita Rivera: "John Kander and Fred Ebb. Where to begin. I am so lucky to have such great lifetime friends as John Kander and Fred Ebb, and even luckier to have had them write such wonderful roles for me. From ZORBA to CHICAGO, THE RINK, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN and THE VISIT. . .We are all so lucky to have their beautiful songs in our lives. I sometimes forget who they are and that they belong to the world until I do something like go to Yankee Stadium and hear 60,000 people singing 'New York, New York'! It blows me away, and I feel this little thing inside me say, 'Oh my God…John and Freddy wrote that, and they are my friends!' I would call them many times, and they would be working but would say to me, 'Hey Cheet…listen to this,' and proceed to play for me a brand-new song for the first time. They'd laugh because I cry at being so privileged I miss Freddy terribly. John and Freddy have contributed their talent, dedication and love to the musical theatre, which will survive long after we've gone. In times to come, there will be productions of CABARET, CHICAGO and all the others, as well as musak in outer space playing 'New York, New York.' The world is a better place with your music in it. We honor you, love you and keep you close to our hearts. Especially me."
David Hyde Pierce: "In CURTAINS I got to sing the first song Kander wrote both music and lyrics to — 'Coffee Shop Nights.' (The first time I'd heard the song, it was a demo recording of John singing and playing it, and no one will ever do it better.) The first time I sang it, in rehearsal for the workshop, Kander was trying to convey to our music director David Loud what the accompaniment should feel like, and decided to play it himself to demonstrate. So suddenly, there I was, singing Kander's beautiful song, with John himself at the piano, and I thought, 'Somebody kill me now, because life doesn't get better than this.'
Debra Monk: "I fell in love with John Kander and Fred Ebb during STEEL PIER. They have been my teachers, mentors, friends and my biggest fans. It has been unconditional love. They loved rehearsals, getting to know all the kids, telling stories, giving advice, and of course working on the show. They never stopped working. They certainly enjoyed their successes, but the real thrill for them, was creating something new. I miss Freddy so much — to be in the rehearsal room with him or be able to call and tell him a new dirty joke or hear one from him…and he would have loved CURTAINS, and I'm so sorry he didn't have that experience with us. Thank God John Kander is in my life. His brilliant talent, quiet wisdom, dirty twinkle in the eye and absolute love for the theatre continue to inspire me. Just saying 'Kander and Ebb' makes me smile, not only because I love them, because of all of the wonderful music they have given the world. I will never forget arriving in Venice, Italy, late one spring evening, and they were playing 'New York, New York' as the water taxi docked. John and Freddy have always been passionate about guiding and encouraging new talent, and so being honored by The Acting Company is perfect.
Terrence McNally: "I did three shows with John and Fred. Each was wildly different from the others but all were equally challenging. They didn't make a librettist's life any easier by their choice of subject matter: an old woman hell-bent on revenge (THE VISIT), Marxism, homosexuality and torture (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN) or an impossibly toxic mother/daughter relationship (THE RINK). What made collaborating on these 'difficult' shows so enjoyable was their joy in tackling the problems at hand and the consummate professionalism with which they solved them. As a tyro librettist, I was lucky to have such mentors. Just about everything I know about writing for the musical theatre I got from them. They are of the Grand Tradition and always will be. They were audacious innovators, too. Is there a more brilliant opening number than 'Willkommen' or a more chilling milieu than Cabaret's? Who knew a musical could take us there (and make us like it) before John and Fred? And with all apologies to Ol' Blue Eyes himself and Liza, too, no one, but no one, ever sang 'New York, New York' better than Fred Ebb in a white suit at Radio City Music Hall with John Kander on piano. It was definitive — just like their body of work is."
Karen Ziemba: "Both John and Fred were instrumental in starting my career. It happened 20 years ago — can you believe it? — with the original AND THE WORLD GOES’ ROUND in Montclair, NJ, at Olympia Dukakis' Whole Theatre. The production, with some cast changes, moved on to The Westside Theatre in NYC, and I received my first Drama Desk Award for that performance. However, when you're performing anything Kander and Ebb wrote, you have an 'edge' — their songwriting is that good. I continued to collaborate with them along with colleagues such as Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, David (Tommy) Thompson, Joe Stein, Walter Bobbie and Annie Reinking on STEEL PIER, CURTAINS, THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH and CHICAGO. I've sung in many tributes over the years for the pair, and try never to miss the opportunity. My first impression of them is the most vivid in my mind. It was my first audition for John and Fred and the creative team of AND THE WORLD GOES’ ROUND. I knew them both by name and fame, but not from ever meeting them personally. Well, I never remember being treated with such respect in an audition before. I was treated as an equal, like they actually were glad I showed up. John stood and came from around the table, shook my hand, introduced himself, told me I sang beautifully and proceeded to ask me to sing the song in a higher key. (He was checking for those soprano notes.) Nonetheless, he was a gentleman and took the time to get results by making me feel comfortable and appreciated. Go figure?! Anyway, I still hold them in high regard, not only for their kindness and generosity to those in our profession and those wanting to enter it, but for their amazing work as songwriters. Fred was a gentle poet crossed with a stand-up comedian, and John is still working on one of his and Fred's last collaborations, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS. John can still play the piano better than ever...and those melodies...he's awesome!"
Photos by Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.