History of the Singapore Musical
Is There a Singapore Musical Theatre?
Singapore Musical Theatre
Prescription for Singapore Musicals
Content Development For Musicals
The Singapore Musical
Singapore Musical Theater
Creative Industries
Five Foot Broadway 2007
Musical Theatre Workshop
Musicals in the Raw
Why New Musicals?
Incubating Musicals
Impossible Dream
How to Write a Musical
Writing Musicals
Future of Musical Theatre
Musicals Dead?
Jukebox Musicals
The Story of Chess
Sondheim v Webber
Fred Ebb
Film Musicals List
Break a Leg
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Are Critics Necessary?
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Report 5 Ft Broadway
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Admiral's Odyssey, The
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Big Bang!
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But Now We See
Chang and Eng
Corporate Animals
Firefly in the Light
Forbidden City
Good History, A
I Have a Date with Spring
It's My Life
Kampong Amber
Kung Fu Tale, A
Lao Jiu
Lao Jiu (2012)
Lost in Transit
Magic Paintbrush
The Magic Paintbrush: the Musical
Makan Place
Making the Grade
Mortal Sins
Mr Beng
Nanyang the musical
Oi! Sleeping Beauty!
Pagoda Street
Phua Chu Kang
Roses & Hello
School House Rockz
Shanghai Blues
Sing to the Dawn
Singapura: the musical
Sleepless Town
Snow Queen, The
Snow Wolf Lake
So You Want to be a Nurse
24 Hours
Twist of Fate, A
Viva Lah! Singapura
Women on Canvas
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Fred Ebb


Fred Ebb (1933-2004)

by Kenneth Lyen

Today I mourn the passage of Fred Ebb, a great lyricist of the American musical theater. He was 71 years old.

Born in New York City, he became enthralled with the theater from a young age. He graduated from New York University and did a Masters degree in English Literature at Columbia University. His major interest was in theater and he attended as many performances as opportunity would entertain.

In 1962 Fred Ebb was introduced to John Kander by his music publisher, Tommy Valando.

One of their first successful songs was "My Coloring Book" which became a hit for Barbra Streisand. They auditioned for George Abbot's 1965 musical Flora the Red Menace, and were invited to write the songs. While working on Flora, they were introduced to 19-year-old Liza Minnelli, who was keen to perform the lead role. Kander and Ebb persuaded Abbott to cast Minnelli, and the production became her Broadway debut. It was also the start of a lifelong relationship between Minnelli and the songwriters, who have created some of their best materials for her. While Flora was not a hit, it was a praiseworthy inauguration for Kander and Ebb. My favorite song from this musical is "Quiet Thing".

In 1966, Kander and Ebb had their first major success. Harold Prince, who produced Flora, invited them to collaborate on a musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories." The result was Cabaret, which became a hit and ran for 1,166 performances on Broadway. It earned Kander and Ebb the Tony Award for Best Score and won several Tony's, including Best Musical. Its concept was innovative, and the production was stylized. It also carried a political message as it was set in Weimar Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and showed scenes of antisemitism. A few years later, in 1972, Cabaret was made into a movie, and although it was not as politically sharp-edged as the stage production, it nevertheless won 8 Academy Awards. They added a new song to the film, "Maybe This Time", which I love.

In 1968, Kander and Ebb wrote The Happy Time, but unfortunately the show failed commercially. However, it did contain a beautiful song, "Seeing Things". Their next two shows, Zorba and 70, Girls, 70 were also not commercial successes. Zorba contains a little gem of a song, entitled "Life Is".

Then came Chicago, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon premiered in 1975. The show was based on Maurine Dallas Watkins' 1926 play about two murderesses, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. It included many hit numbers, including "All That Jazz," and the dances choreographed by Bob Fosse were absolutely stunning. The show ran for 898 performances, and although it garnered 11 Tony nominations, it did not win a single one. That year, A Chorus Line walked off with 9 Tony's. However, in 2002, Chicago was made into a film. The screenplay tells the story through Roxie's eyes, and the musical world becomes a fantasy in her imagination. I prefer this approach to the stage version. The film won 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

In 1977, Kander and Ebb wrote the title song for Martin Scorsese's film New York, New York, sung by Liza Minnelli. It is now considered the theme song for New York City.

That year they staged The Act starring Liza Minnelli, but it was a flop. In 1981, they wrote Woman of the Year" featuring Lauren Bacall. This show gave them their second Tony award. The Rink was another vehicle for Liza Minnelli, and was staged in 1984.

The next big hit was Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the novel by Manuel Puig. It reunited Kander and Ebb with director Harold Prince. It opened in 1993 and ran for 904 performances. The story was about the relationship between a political prisoner and a gay window dresser obsessed with movies. It won 7 Tony Awards including Best Score for Kander and Ebb, their third Tony.

In 1997 they wrote Steel Pier, their last original musical to open on Broadway, but it was a flop and closed after 76 performances.

Kander and Ebb occupy a unique place in the history of musical theater. Fred's lyrics are are intelligent, provocative, and he is not afraid to tackle controversial themes. They will always be remembered for their hit songs like "All That Jazz" and "Cabaret." Luckily there is a record of them singing their own songs in the Songwriters series. This is a must watch video for all Kander and Ebb aficionados. The partnership has survived almost five decades, making it the longest in Broadway musical history. Fred was inducted into The Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983.

"Life is a cabaret," Fred wrote. A cabaret that entertains and enriches our lives. I will miss you, Fred. Rest in peace.

11 September 2004