In American Songbook's Ring Them Bells!, Kander & Ebb Vets Chita Rivera and Joel Grey Heat Up the Night
By Steven Suskin
Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley, Joel Grey and Chita Rivera sang the bitter, sweet — and bittersweet — songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb in Lincoln Center's American Songbook series Feb. 6. Playbill was there.
The work of John Kander & Fred Ebb was saluted Feb. 6 with proper flair and excitement as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. Kander & Ebb have been performed and celebrated repeatedly over the years, with all sorts of all-star casts, but never in such a fittingly "New York, New York" setting as the Allen Room's glassed-in view high atop Central Park.
Ring Them Bells! Rob Fisher Celebrates Kander & Ebb the concert was titled, and it was a true celebration of composer Kander and late lyricist Ebb, the Tony Award winners best known for the musicals Cabaret and Chicago. Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, musical comedy's favorite wife/husband duo, led the festivities along with two very special guests, Joel Grey (of the original Cabaret and its film version) and Chita Rivera (of the original Chicago).
These names immediately conjured possibilities of original-cast recreations, and Fisher didn't let us down: the 20-song set included eight, led — naturally — by Grey's "Wilkommen" and Rivera's "All That Jazz." But it was an evening filled with highlights. An edited version will be aired on PBS on Feb. 15 as the first of six "Live From Lincoln Center" broadcasts.
Grey and Rivera didn't simply perform star spots. Once onstage, they remained and gamely participated in group numbers, making the evening all the more enjoyable. Mazzie and Danieley, both of whom are adept at things romantical and comical, allowed Fisher and writer/director David Garrison to include a wide variety of songs. Eleven K & E musicals were represented, ranging from Flora, The Red Menace to The Visit. The high spots — along with Joel and Chita's signature numbers —came from Mazzie with a searing "But the World Goes 'Round" and a deliciously uproarious "Ring Them Bells" (in which she received a notable assist from Danieley, with bells).
Fisher narrated the evening from the piano bench in his typically friendly/informed style, leading a compact but strong band. The six musicians and four singing stars were accompanied by an uncredited dancer in a gorilla suit, as Grey's partner in "If You Could See Her."
Fisher commented that he was asked how this year's Kander & Ebb salute compared to other such evenings he's assembled around the work of Porter, Gershwin, Bernstein and others. This time, he said, the experience was enhanced because he was able to actually have lunch with the composer. Kander himself made it to the stage for the curtain call, sporting a snowy-white beard.
Here's the songlist:
"Life Is" — Marin and Jason
(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's On the Record, Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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