John Kander


Composer

About

Also Known As
John Harold Kander
Birth Place
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Born
March 18, 1927

Biography

Since the early 1960s, John Kander and Fred Ebb have been on the forefront of American musical theater. While many of their contemporary songwriting teams (i.e., Bock and Harnick, Strouse and Adams) long ago abandoned their collaborations, Kander and Ebb have continued to surprise and entertain. Despite odd choices for musical comedy settings (Weimar Germany, a murder trial, marathon dan...

Notes

Inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1991

On working with longtime collaborator, lyricist Fred Ebb, Kander told David Patrick Stearns of USA TODAY (April 23, 1997): "There's a third person that's created--Kander & Ebb. It's a one-word thing."

Biography

Since the early 1960s, John Kander and Fred Ebb have been on the forefront of American musical theater. While many of their contemporary songwriting teams (i.e., Bock and Harnick, Strouse and Adams) long ago abandoned their collaborations, Kander and Ebb have continued to surprise and entertain. Despite odd choices for musical comedy settings (Weimar Germany, a murder trial, marathon dances), their work generally has one driving element: entertainment. Both as a thematic device and a subject, show business and its pleasures are the goals of most of the heroes and heroines of their musicals. It may be an escapist fantasy (as in "Kiss of the Spider Woman") or the professions of the main characters (as in "Woman of the Year"). Whatever the case, Kander composes appropriately bouncy up-tempo numbers and lilting ballads married to Ebb's witty, sometimes caustic, lyrics.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Kander headed East to obtain a master's degree at Columbia University. By then, he had already begun his career, composing several shows in his junior and senior years at Oberlin College. His first professional job was as choral director and conductor at the Warwick (RI) Musical Theatre. Kander also served as pianist for the NYC productions of "The Amazing Adele" and "An Evening with Beatrice Lillie" (both 1956). As the 1950s wound down, he had settled in Manhattan and found work as a dance arranger and conductor for Broadway musicals like "Gypsy" (1959). In 1962, Kander wrote his first Broadway score for the ill-fated "A Family Affair," with book and lyrics by William and James Goldman. Later that year, a rising singer, Barbra Streisand, recorded two song written by Kander and Ebb. "My Coloring Book" proved to be a success and launched the pair on their career.

"Flora, the Red Menace" (1965) was the first Broadway musical with a score by Kander and Ebb. Adapted from the novel "Love Is Just Around the Corner" and set in 30s New York, the show focused on fashion illustrator Flora (Liza Minnelli in a star-making performance) who falls in love with a member of the Communist Party. Although the show received mixed notices, its score was praised and several of the songs (especially the lovely ballad "A Quiet Thing") have become nightclub staples. With their second musical, the songwriters hit pay dirt. "Cabaret" (1966) was a groundbreaking show in several ways. Set in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party, it raised issues of anti-Semitism and free love. Hardly the usual topics for conventional musical comedy. Brilliantly staged by Harold Prince and designed by Boris Aronson (a mirror was mounted over the stage which both drew the audience in and was a tacit commentary on its collusion), "Cabaret" also featured a bold score. The opening number, "Wilkommen," in which Joel Grey's eerie Master of Ceremonies greets the audience was both breathtaking and audacious. The show went on to win numerous awards, including eight Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score.

After such an acclaimed success, the pair had modest success with their follow-ups, although each provided a star turn. "The Happy Time" (1968) offered Robert Goulet a fine role as a French Canadian photographer nostalgically recalling his family. "Zorba" (1968) adapted Michael Cacoyannis' 1964 feature "Zorba the Greek" and gave Herschel Bernardi one of his best stage roles as the title character with a zest for living. The next major success for the pair was "Chicago," (1975), loosely based on Maurine Watkins' play (the basis for the 1942 Ginger Rogers vehicle "Roxie Hart"), about a publicity-seeking murderess. Directed by Bob Fosse, the musical presented the story as a series of vaudeville sketches and Kander and Ebb wrote a score that was both homage to and commentary on the styles prevalent in the 1920s. Bitingly cynical and wickedly funny (with numerous double entrendres), "Chicago" was performed to the hilt by Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach. Yet, despite running for well over a year, the show was overshadowed by the instant classic "A Chorus Line." Nominated for 11 Tony Awards, "Chicago" failed to win a single one.

"The Act" (1978) was conceived as a star vehicle for Liza Minnelli, who portrayed Michelle Craig, a singer performing in Las Vegas. There were no "book songs" to propel the plot; the score stood alone as a nightclub act. Reviews were mixed and the show lasted only as long as Minnelli wanted to appear on Broadway. In 1981, Kander and Ebb wrote the songs for the stage adaptation of the 1942 Tracy-Hepburn romp "Woman of the Year." Because the show was structured as a star vehicle for Lauren Bacall, it lacked some of the charm and pleasures of the film. Nevertheless, Kander and Ebb won their second Tony Award. (The score features the plaintive love song "Sometimes a Day Goes By" and the comic duet "The Grass Is Always Greener.") They stumbled somewhat with "The Rink" (1984), a musical drama about an estranged mother and daughter, although Chita Rivera won her first Tony as the former. Eight years later, Rivera was to have one her biggest stage successes with "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Originally workshopped in 1990, the show was completely overhauled and premiered in London in 1992. Based on the Manuel Puig novel (filmed in 1985), it is unlikely material for a musical, yet, bookwriter Terrence McNally and Kander and Ebb transformed the material into a meditation on the power of imagination.

In 1996, "Chicago" was revived to unanimous acclaim. What seemed cynical in 1975 was topical in the 90s, particularly in light of celebrity murder trials and the rise of tabloid journalism. The revival featured James Naughton, Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking and Joel Grey and soon became the hottest ticket in town. Later that season, Kander and Ebb premiered their eleventh show, "Steel Pier," set at a dance marathon in the 1930s, to mixed reviews.

Kander began composing for the big screen with Harold Prince's "Something for Everyone" (1969), but he and Ebb had their greatest success with Bob Fosse's screen version of "Cabaret" (1972). Fosse reconceived the material, dropping many of the book songs, and confining the musical numbers to the titular Kit Kat Club. With strong performances from Liza Minnelli and Michael York and Joel Grey recreating his stage role as the Emcee, the film was both a critical and box-office success. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won eight, although in an ironic twist, the musical contributions of Kander and Ebb were overlooked. (They had written a couple of new songs for the films.) The Academy remedied that in 1975 when the duo was nominated for Best Original Song for the infectious showstopper "How Lucky Can You Get" performed by Barbra Streisand in "Funny Lady." Surprisingly, their contributions to Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York" (1977) were also overlooked. Yet, that film's theme has probably become the pair's best-known song (thanks in part to Frank Sinatra's recording). Kander has collaborated with director Robert Benton on several films, notably "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979) and "Places in the Heart" (1984)

For the small screen, Kander has provided appropriate scores for TV-movies "An Early Frost" (NBC, 1985), the first network longform to address the issue of AIDS, "Breathing Lesson" (CBS, 1994) and "The Boys Next Door" (CBS, 1996), all directed by John Erman. Kander and Ebb have also provided special material for numerous variety and awards shows, notably several headlined by Liza Minnelli, including "Singer Presents Liza With a 'Z'" (NBC, 1972), "Goldie and Liza Together" (CBS, 1980) and "Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall" (PBS, 1992).

Filmography

 

Producer (Feature Film)

Superheroes (2010)
Coproducer
Vigilante Cop (1991)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Love, Simon (2018)
Song
Spectre (2015)
Song
The Other Woman (2014)
Song
Gone Girl (2014)
Song
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
Song
Moneyball (2011)
Song
New Year's Eve (2011)
Song
Friends with Benefits (2011)
Song
Burlesque (2010)
Song
War, Inc. (2008)
Song
Lucky You (2007)
Song
Chestnut: Hero of Central Park (2006)
Song
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)
Song
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005)
Song
Connie and Carla (2004)
Song
Chicago (2003)
Composer
Soldier's Girl (2003)
Song
Death to Smoochy (2002)
Song
Bitva o Zivot (2000)
Song
Loser (2000)
Song
Mystery, Alaska (1999)
Song
Summer of Sam (1999)
Song
Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997)
Song ("Willkommen")
A Life Apart: Hasidism in America (1996)
Song
The Boys Next Door (1996)
Music
It Could Happen to You (1994)
Song
Breathing Lessons (1994)
Music
Gypsy (1993)
Music Arranger
Stepping Out (1991)
Music
My Blue Heaven (1990)
Song
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Song
I Want to Go Back Home (1989)
Music
Sing (1989)
Song
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Song
Who's That Girl? (1987)
Song
Highlander (1986)
Song
Lost in America (1985)
Song
Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)
Song
An Early Frost (1985)
Music
Bring on the Night (1985)
Song
Starman (1984)
Song
Places In The Heart (1984)
Music
Blue Skies Again (1983)
Music
Still of the Night (1982)
Music
Tempest (1982)
Song
They All Laughed (1981)
Song
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
Music
New York, New York (1977)
Song
A Matter of Time (1976)
Songs
Funny Lady (1975)
Song
Lucky Lady (1975)
Songs ("Get While The Gettin' Is Good" "Lucky Lady")
Cabaret (1972)
Composer
Something for Everyone (1970)
Music

Cast (Special)

The Kennedy Center Honors (1998)
The Music of Kander and Ebb: Razzle Dazzle (1997)

Writer (Special)

Liza Minnelli in Sam Found Out: A Triple Play (1988)
Writer
Three For the Girls (1973)
Writer (Story 2)
Liza With a Z (1972)
Writer

Music (Special)

From Broadway: Fosse (2002)
Music
Sensational Cities: New York (2000)
Song
Cincinnati Pops Holiday: Love Is in the Air (1999)
Music
The Music of Kander and Ebb: Razzle Dazzle (1997)
Music
The 65th Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1993)
Music
Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall (1992)
Music
Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall (1992)
Song
Liza Minnelli in Sam Found Out: A Triple Play (1988)
Song
The 60th Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1988)
Music
Baryshnikov on Broadway (1980)
Music

Special Thanks (Special)

Liza Minnelli in Sam Found Out: A Triple Play (1988)
Writer
Three For the Girls (1973)
Writer (Story 2)
Liza With a Z (1972)
Writer

Misc. Crew (Special)

Broadway '97: Launching the Tonys (1997)
Interviewee

Life Events

1956

Was a pianist for the NY stage productions of "The Amazing Adele" and "An Evening With Beatrice Lillie"

1957

Served as conductor on the musical, "Conversation Piece"

1959

Arranged dance music for the Broadway musical, "Gypsy"

1962

Composed score for the Broadway musical, "A Family Affair"; book and lyrics by William and James Goldman

1962

Met and began collaborating with lyricist Fred Ebb

1965

First stage musical with Ebb, "Flora, the Red Menace"; also first collaboration with Liza Minnelli

1966

Won first Tony for scoring the musical, "Cabaret"; again collaborated with lyricist Fred Ebb

1968

Collaborated with Ebb for the musical, "The Happy End"

1969

Scored first motion picture, the Harold Prince directed, "Something for Everyone"

1972

Collaborated with Ebb to write new songs for Bob Fosse's feature adaptation of "Cabaret," starring Liza Minnelli

1972

Created special material for the Bob Fosse TV special, "Liza with a Z" (NBC)

1975

Composed the songs (with lyrics by Ebb) for the film, "Lucky Lady," starring Minnelli

1975

Wrote the score (with Ebb) for the hit Broadway musical "Chicago," directed by Fosse

1975

Earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for "How Lucky Can You Get?" from "Funny Lady"; shared nomination with Ebb

1977

Co-wrote with Ebb, the song "New York, New York" for Martin Scorsese's film musical starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro

1978

Wrote the score for "The Act," starring Minnelli and directed by Scorsese

1979

Created the musical score for Robert Benton's Oscar-winning film, "Kramer vs. Kramer"

1981

Won second Tony for creating the score for the stage adaptation of "Woman of the Year"

1982

Scored Robert Benton's "Still of the Night"

1984

Composed the score for the musical, "The Rink," starring Minnelli and Chita Rivera

1984

With Ebb, wrote the theme music for the CBS sitcom, "Mama Malone"

1985

Scored the groundbreaking TV-movie, "An Early Frost" (NBC), first collaboration with director John Erman

1988

Wrote special material for the ABC special, "Liza Minnelli in Sam Found Out: A Triple Play"

1988

Wrote special musical material for "The 60th Annual Academy Awards Presentation"

1991

Contributed special material to "Liza Minnelli: Stepping Out at Radio City"; later aired on PBS under the title "Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall"

1991

A collection his songs with Ebb was showcased in the off-Broadway musical revue, "And the World Goes 'Round"

1992

Scored a revised version of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," starring Rivera; earned third Tony Award for Best Score (shared with Ebb)

1994

Scored the John Erman directed TV-movie, "Breathing Lessons" (CBS)

1996

Wrote score for TV-movie "The Boys Next Door", directed by John Erman

1996

Scored a revised version of "Chicago" on Broadway

1997

With Ebb, wrote the music for Broadway's "Steel Pier"

2003

Received a Grammy nomination for his work on the feature adaptation of "Chicago"

2006

With Ebb composed the score for the Broadway musical, "Curtains"; earned a Tony nomination for Best Original Score

2011

Final collaboration with Ebb, composing the music for "The Scottsboro Boys"; earned a Tony nomination for Best Original Score

Videos

Movie Clip

Cabaret (1972) - Mein Herr The M-C (Joel Grey) calls Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) to the stage at the Kit-Kat Club, where she performs Mein Herr, written for the film by John Kander and Fred Ebb, in Bob Fosse's Cabaret, 1972.
Cabaret (1972) - Maybe This Time Sally (Liza Minnelli), with Brian (Michael York) after a successful tryst, cut with her performance of Maybe This Time by John Kander and Fred Ebb, in Bob Fosse's Cabaret, 1972.
Cabaret (1972) - Berlin, 1931 The opening is all director Bob Fosse and Joel Grey as the never-named “Master Of Ceremonies,” though the song is from the John Kander and Fred Ebb Broadway musical, and Michael York as innocent Englishman Brian is introduced in passing, in Cabaret, 1972, starring Liza Minnelli.
Funny Lady (1975) - Blind Date From an opening sequence with highlights from Funny Girl, 1968, an original tune by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Barbra Streisand reprising her role as Fanny Brice, this time on Depression-era Broadway, co-stars Royce Wallace and Roddy McDowall in support, in Funny Lady, 1975.
Chicago (2002) - All I Care About Is Love Aspiring star Roxie (Renee Zellweger), jailed for murder, advised by matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), learns about hotshot lawyer Billy (Richard Gere), already representing her rival and fellow murderess Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones), song by John Kander and Fred Ebb, in Chicago, 2002.
Chicago (2002) - They Paid To See A Sister Act Director Rob Marshall’s opening, Cliff Saunders the stage manager, Taye Diggs the bandleader, camera tracking Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who launches perhaps the best-known tune by John Kander and Fred Ebb, star Renee Zellweger just seen, in the Academy Award-winning Chicago, 2002.
Chicago (2002) - Funny Honey Shortly after murdering her lover, Roxie (Renee Zellweger), gets grilled by a cop (Roman Podhora), and initially supported by husband Amos (John C. Reilly), imagining into her first number, by John Kander and Fred Ebb, in director Rob Marshall’s Academy Award-winning Chicago, 2002.
Cabaret (1972) - Didn't You Just Scream? On their first quasi-date in Berlin, English Brian (Michael York) and American Sally (Liza Minnelli) enjoy the train, and director Bob Fosse inter-cuts the M-C (Joel Grey) with a Nazi gang-bashing, in Cabaret, 1972.

Trailer

Family

Harold S Kander
Father
Bernice Kander
Mother

Bibliography

Notes

Inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1991

On working with longtime collaborator, lyricist Fred Ebb, Kander told David Patrick Stearns of USA TODAY (April 23, 1997): "There's a third person that's created--Kander & Ebb. It's a one-word thing."

Kander and Ebb have the dubious distinction of being part of the creative team of the only two musicals to be nominated for 11 Tony Awards without a single win: the original production of "Chicago" in 1975 and "Steel Pier" in 1997.