Will John Kander write a new show, with a new collaborator?Asking this question of the Tony Award-winning composer, who lost his longtime lyricist Fred Ebb less than three years ago, is a little like asking a widow if she'll marry again anytime soon.
Kander and Ebb — who penned songs for Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Broadway's current Curtains — had a 42-year collaboration that launched hits and misses, helped punctuate the chapter in musical theatre history known as "the concept musical," and were responsible for not a few pop songs ("My Coloring Book," "The Theme From 'New York, New York.'")
K&E mattered. So the question is a natural one: What's next for the 80-year-old Kander?
The short answer, he told Playbill.com, is that he's in a shepherding phase in which he's working toward giving life to the last four — or, now that Curtains has a commercial life, three — shows he and Ebb were working on before the lyricist died Sept. 11, 2004. Curtains is now open on Broadway. Waiting in the wings are All About Us, their musical of The Skin of Our Teeth (with book writer Joseph Stein), which will play April 10-28 at Westport Country Playhouse; their musical The Visit (with Terrence McNally), getting a revised production in the fall at Virginia's Signature Theatre; and The Minstrel Show, their "vicious" (his term) musical take on a slice of Depression-era American injustice, which is in limbo, but has collaborators David Thompson and Susan Stroman attached.
"Those shows were unfinished, just as [Curtains] was," Kander said. "[Curtains] has five new songs…since Fred died. And there will be some changes in the score of All About Us and I haven't visited the The Visit yet, but I know there are at least two chunks that need to be rewritten."
The Minstrel Show, a musical that uses blackface to tell the story of the "Scottsboro Boys," black men in Alabama wrongly accused of raping white women, "was almost complete at Fred's death," Kander said. "I've added a couple songs to it."
Curtains has songs by Kander and Ebb, with additional lyrics by Kander and Rupert Holmes.
Will revisions and additions to All About Us and The Visit have new lyrics by Kander? "At the moment, yeah," Kander said. "I mean, I have no pride about all this. I'm enjoying the lyric writing that I'm doing — that I do with much less confidence [than the music], of course. I would have no compunctions about asking somebody for help."
Is there a future writing partner for Kander, a future show beyond those already conceived?
Kander observed, "I've said this before, and to myself also: 'I have to get these four pieces done.' When they are done, I will be very curious to find out what I feel like writing. This is a commitment now — it's where my energies are going."
The path could be lonely, but Kander said he knows he's part of a community of other theatre artists — collaborators — who bring shows to life.
"On Curtains I've had this incredible support from both [director] Scott [Ellis] and Rupert," Kander said. "We function as a collaboration. I try not to think back a lot. This is now. Fred is omnipresent, God knows, in this piece. In terms of the work that has to be done, you just have to do it. You can't grieve or become self-pitying, or anything like that. Whether he would've liked what I've written or not, he would have approved of the idea of us proceeding and proceeding this seriously."
He mimics the salty Ebb's tone of voice: "Do it or not! Are we gonna do this or not?"