When CBS broadcasts the 1998 Kennedy Center Honors on Dec. 30, a viewer unfamiliar with theatre might think them odd company with the likes of Bill Cosby, Willie Nelson, Shirley Temple Black and Andre Previn.
Nevertheless, Kander, 71, and the 70ish Ebb -- not household names like their fellow honorees -- were the first to be feted with songs, testimonials and a short film documentary at the annual Kennedy Center Honors, held Dec. 6 at the Washington DC venue.
CBS airs The Kennedy Center Honors, hosted by Walter Cronkite, 9-11 PM (ET) Dec. 30. Check local listings.
The gala, attended by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, is the largest fundraising event for the nonprofit performing arts center.
The songwriters, who began writing songs 35 years ago, were serenaded at the awards by past and current "Master of Ceremonies" from Cabaret, Alan Cumming and Joel Grey, plus the revived Chicago's Bebe Neuwirth (who sang "All That Jazz") and the original 1975 Chicago's Chita Rivera (who sang songs with Neuwirth), followed by Liza Minnelli, who sang the K&E song made famous by Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York," from the Martin Scorsese film in which she starred. Across the River, in Arlington, VA, the staff of the Signature Theatre has been working on the new K&E musical, Over & Over, a tuner based on Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. Since the taping early December, Over & Over star Bebe Neuwirth parted company with director Eric Schaeffer over "artistic differences." Sherie Scott replaced her. The staging will begin previews Jan. 6, 1999 and officially open to the press Jan. 27, 1999.
Reportedly in the K&E hopper is a musical version of Friedrich Durrenmatt's dark 1956 allegory, The Visit, with book writer Terrence McNally, a vehicle for Angela Lansbury.
The Dec. 7 Washington Post reported Minnelli was working on a concert show being put together by Ebb. In that edition of The Post it was revealed that Ebb had malignant tumors removed from the left side of his torso in the summer of 1998 and spent a month in intensive care.
"Apparently, there were terrible, terrible days," Ebb is quoted as saying. "I worried so many people. I saw them cry; I hated that. My sister. My nephews. Johnny [Kander] was upset, I guess."
Kander replied, "Nahhh."
The Post quoted Ebb saying, "I don't fear dying. I fear getting sick and putting everyone through that again. But of you could go to sleep tomorrow, it would be fine."
Among Kander and Ebb's Broadway scores are Flora, the Red Menace, Cabaret, The Happy Time, Zorba, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Rink, Woman of the Year and Steel Pier, as well as the score of the film, "Funny Lady."
Coincidentally, fellow honoree Previn's new opera version of A Streetcar Named Desire airs on PBS 8:30-11:30 PM Dec. 30, competing with the honors. Check local listings. -- By Kenneth Jones