Grey and Kander were the recipients of the 2023 Special Tony Awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. With a collective 19 Tony nominations between them (and 5 wins, not including their non-competitive special awards), both men are true Broadway icons, whose incredible bodies of work speak to a remarkable work ethic, and passionate love for the theatre.
Equally passionate were the tributes to both Grey and Kander during The Tony Awards: Act One on Pluto TV. Kander was welcomed to the stage by his current New York, New York collaborator Lin-Manuel Miranda to riotous applause from the audience. After a protracted ovation, Kander quieted the audience ("I think I'm gonna say something?") before delivering a heartfelt speech.
"This is a very big deal. When your own community honors you, it's very humbling and a little bit scary. I also know that I am here in great part because of the work of my longtime collaborator, Fred Ebb. And also, the incredible performers and writers and directors and choreographers that I've been lucky enough to work with in my life. I have three major thank yous. I'm very grateful to my parents, who somehow urged me to consider the possibility of happiness. I'm also grateful to Albert Stephenson, who is my home, and has been for 46 years. And last, but certainly not least, I am grateful to music, which has invaded me early on from the time I was a baby, and who has stayed my friend through my entire life, and has promised to stick with me till the end. Thank you."
Presenting Grey with his award was his daughter, Jennifer Grey, who became quite emotional onstage while celebrating her father to an audience of his biggest fans and most valued collaborators. When Joel Grey swept onto the stage with great aplomb, he addressed his speech to her. When he turned out to face the audience, numerous attendees could be seen in tears.
"Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome! My daughter, my beauty, my sweetness. Seven pounds, 11 ounces. No more. No, no more. Thank you, darling. You know parents always have an idea for their children—their plans—which is, I suppose, how I ended up here.
"My mom and dad always wanted me to be on the stage. My mom took me to the theatre when I was nine. We went to the Cleveland Playhouse. It was a matinee. I still remember sitting there in the audience mesmerized, hypnotized, thrilled to the bone. And I still remember what I said to my mom that day: 'I wanna do that.' Lucky for me, I had a dad who was already a comedian and a success—the great Yiddish comedian Mickey Katz. And my dad never pushed me. He simply led by example. And I must also admit that it's a strange feeling to go from being the eager kid, which I was till yesterday, and being honored with my great, great friend and collaborator, John Kander, who is ever slightly elder than I am.
"Being recognized by the theatre community is such a gift because it's always been, next to my children, my greatest, most enduring love. But what that nine-year-old boy sitting in velvet at the Cleveland Playhouse was seeking, more than anything, was a place to fit in. To be accepted. Don't get me wrong, I love the work. I love the words. I love the applause. Oh my god, I love the applause! But it's ultimately people, the community, all of you, who have made this whole ride more magnificent than even I could have imagined. So thank you. Auf wiedersehen! À bientôt! Good night."
Later in the CBS broadcast, hosts Ariana DeBose and Julianne Hough performed a dance routine inspired by the original "Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago, after which they brought both Grey and Kander back out for an additional ovation.
The pairing of the two legends was particularly appropriate, as Grey and Kander's careers have been indelibly linked since Grey won a Tony Award creating the role of The Emcee in Kander's 1966 musical Cabaret, a role he would repeat for the 1973 film adaptation, also winning an Academy Award. The two reunited in 1996 when Grey starred as Amos Hart in the original company of the now long-running revival of Kander's Chicago.
Grey's career has also seen Broadway performances in Come Blow Your Horn, Stop the World I Want to Get Off, Half a Sixpence, George M!, Goodtime Charley, The Grand Tour, Wicked, Anything Goes, and The Cherry Orchard. As a director, he co-directed the 2011 Broadway revival of The Normal Heart with George C. Wolfe, and also helmed the recent Off-Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, winner of the 2019 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical Revival.
Kander is best known as one-half of the legendary Broadway duo of Kander and Ebb, a collaboration that gave us such musicals as Zorba, The Happy Time, 70 Girls 70, Chicago, The Act, Woman of the Year, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Steel Pier, Curtains, The Scottsboro Boys, and The Visit. Kander is currently represented on Broadway with New York, New York, a new musical that combines Kander and Ebb's songs written for the 1977 film of the same name with a number of songs from their extensive back catalogue, along with original songs written by Kander with lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda. Fred Ebb passed away in 2004.
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