FLASH FRIDAY: All His Jazz! A John Kander Celebration - From CHICAGO & CABARET To THE LANDING, THE VISIT & Much More
Today we celebrate a master of the modern musical in honor of this week's start of previews for his newest theatrical venture, THE LANDING, at the Vineyard Theatre, as well as first news on a major NYC bow for his long-gestating project THE VISIT, to say nothing of the longest-running American musical in history going strong on Broadway (CHICAGO) and a hotly anticipated revival of CABARET on the way in 2014 - the one and only John Kander.
Hot Enough For You?
THE ACT to CABARET to CHICAGO to ZORBA, John Kander's musical output is absolutely astounding - time and time again; decade to decade. Running the gamut from the seedy cabarets of Weimar Germany to Chicago in the 1920s to a South American prison to a Las Vegas solo act to Greece, Canada, Coney Island skating rinks and far beyond, with some never-ending dance contests with ghosts and an iconic landmark anthem for a major movie musical in between ("New York, New York") - and, that is just scratching the surface! Of course, the aforementioned CABARET, CHICAGO, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, THE ACT, ZORBA, THE HAPPY TIME, THE RINK, STEEL PIER and NEW YORK, NEW YORK are only a handful of the nearly two dozen major musical properties composed by John Kander, the vast majority of them created with his partner Fred Ebb, who passed away in 2004. In their time, the best of the best have sung Kander & Ebb's songs on Broadway and beyond - Liza Minnelli herself acting as Kander's muse for decades - and Kander's career continues to thrive more than fifty years after his Broadway debut in 1962 with A FAMILY AFFAIR (which was written with James and William Goldman).
The same year as his Broadway debut John Kander met Fred Ebb - a moment for the record books. Their first notable success as a songwriting team following a few pop singles and unproduced works came with FLORA, THE RED MENANCE in 1965, directed by Hal Prince and starring Liza Minnelli, who would go on to win her first Tony Award for the title role in the politically-themed musical. Immediately after FLORA came one of the most unique and innovative musicals in all of musical theatre history - a true landmark; CABARET. While CABARET has enjoyed two successful Broadway productions since its stunning debut, the forthcoming Roundabout revival touts returning Emcee extraordinaire Alan Cumming alongside screen star Michelle Williams in her Broadway musical entree, adding extra excitement to the already eagerly anticipated theatrical event.
Throughout his career, Kander's musicals have remained intellectually challenging and topically engaging, consistently examining socially pertinent themes - indeed, from even a quick glance at his extensive oeuvre one can clearly spy that element as being particularly pervasively present, to say the very least.
While the world may know John Kander mainly for the simply sensational 1972 film adaptation of CABARET, directed by Bob Fosse, featuring Minnelli in her signature performance, as well as the aforementioned anthem of anthems, "New York, New York" and the recent movie musical renaissance piece de resistance, CHICAGO - which won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Picture - it is his continued efforts to expand and examine the possibilities of the musical form that makes him such an important and incomparable figure in Broadway history, then and now. Just allowing a look at his most recent musicals premiered since the passing of his long-time partner, it is immediately evident that Kander is certainly not resting on his well-earned laurels - to the contrary, actually. No doubt, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS was a sophisticated, adult musical as biting and incisive as CABARET or the ever-enduring CHICAGO, if not even more in-your-face and daring. And, now, with THE LANDING, Kander's collaboration with book writer and lyricist Greg Pierce, he is poised to tackle yet another musical format - the musical triptych; ala THE APPLE TREE and 3HREE, among others of the sub-genre.
Also in the ether for the ever-busy Kander is a long-awaited full New York production of one of his final pieces penned with Ebb, THE VISIT, set to star frequent celebrated Kander interpreter Chita Rivera, who famously rose to Tony glory in two Kander & Ebb roles byway of THE RINK and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, to say nothing of originally creating the role of Velma Kelly in CHICAGO.
Yet, the biggest and best question of all remains: what will Kander do next? With a collaborator inspiring him as much as Pierce evidently does - and, also, judging from all the weird and wonderful places he brought us all with Ebb once upon a time - the sky is the limit, if not The Edge of universe itself!
In the 2013-14 theatre season, the hottest composer in town certainly seems to be old favorite John Kander.
For even more on John Kander, check out my 2010 InDepth InterView with the three-time Tony-winner, available here.
So, now, let's take a look at some highlights from John Kander's legendary career on Broadway and in Hollywood, including a sneak peek at his newest musical endeavor, THE LANDING, as well as a look at THE VISIT.
First up, hear where it all began with "A Quiet Thing" from FLORA, THE RED MENACE as performed by Liza Minnelli on THE MUPPET SHOW with the incomparable Kermit the Frog.
LIZA WITH A Z was a landmark television event in 1972 and a large part of the entertainment value resided in the many specialty songs by Kander & Ebb, including an entire CABARET sequence - and that classic title tune, too!
Next, in the first of four more stupendous clips featuring Liza With A Z, see her star in Bob Fosse's CABARET on the silver screen alongside a fellow Oscar-winner for the film, Joel Grey.
Sample the show-stopping "City Lights" from THE ACT at the 1978 Tony Awards. One word says it all: wow!
Treat yourself to a taste of a generous buffet of Kander & Ebb musicals in a brief span, featuring two titanic Tony-winning superstars leading the way in this thrilling 1984 Tony Awards clip.
And, no John Kander clip collection could be complete without this - "New York, New York" from Martin Scorsese's film of the same name starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro, as performed by Minnelli and its other legendary interpreter, Frank Sinatra.
See Chita Rivera raise the roof as only she can do in this Tony Awards clip of KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.
The cast of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS perform with skill and polish on the 2011 Tony Awards.
A few years before THE LANDING, David Hyde Pierce starred in Kander & Ebb's CURTAINS and took home a Tony Award for his efforts.
Now, preview John Kander's newest musical production to premiere in New York, THE LANDING, starring David Hyde Pierce and Julia Murney, now in previews at the Vineyard Theatre.
Lastly, John Kander and Chita Rivera discuss THE VISIT in honor of its one-night-only special concert event held last year, also at the home of THE LANDING, incidentally; the Vineyard Theatre. So, could a full production in 2014 be next?
As a special bonus, hear an early demo from THE VISIT enacted by the peerless Angela Lansbury - "Love And Love Alone".
So, what John Kander score possesses the most musical magic in your esteemed estimation? What song has the most addictive vamp? Furthermore, who is your absolute favorite interpreter of his vast and impressive song catalogue? Whatever your preferences, there is a wealth of wonderment to behold in the composing cannon of Kander, as today's clip collection clearly evidences.
So, what's next? It's up to you, Mr. Kander, it's up to you... and all that jazz.