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Kander, John (b. 1927) and Fred Ebb (1932?-2004)  
 
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Similarly, in Cabaret Fräulein Schneider, raised in luxury but reduced during the Depression to renting rooms and emptying chamber pots, sings of the need to lower one's expectations and "learn how to settle for what you get" ("So What?"). Kander and Ebb reject outright the carpe diem insistence that one enjoy life's pleasures now because they will end all too soon. Rather, the pair insists, enjoyment of the available light is heightened by one's awareness of shadow.

Thus, while Herman's Depression era characters are told to "Tap Your Troubles Away" (Mack and Mabel), Kander and Ebb use the 1930s dance marathon as a metaphor for finding joy in the sheer act of survival, no matter how demeaning the circumstances (Steel Pier). Herman asks his audience to accept that, in the best tradition of the Busby Berkeley musical, life's problems can be forgotten when one is tap-dancing; Kander and Ebb, on the other hand, show the grimace behind the forced smiles of the marathon dancers.

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This may be why audiences rejected Herman's Mack and Mabel for failing to deliver a happy ending, but have less difficulty accepting the tragedy in Kander and Ebb's plays: Mme. Hortense dies and the Widow is killed in Zorba; Kiss is set in a repressive South American regime's prison for political dissidents and sexual deviants, and concludes with the death of the protagonist; the Nazis gradually take control of Berlin in Cabaret.

It is, finally, this insistence that one's full humanity can only be found in the acceptance simultaneously of disappointment and success, in the ambivalent mixture of comedy and tragedy, that makes Kander and Ebb the premier musical poets of sexual ambiguity and of non-normative human relationships.

Sexual Ambiguities

Contrary to musical theater convention, the boy rarely gets the girl in a Kander and Ebb show. Cliff abandons Berlin and Sally Bowles in Cabaret; Flora discovers herself only after being dismissed by her boyfriend, Harry; Roxie learns that "I am my own best friend" in Chicago; a men-less Angel and Anna reconcile in The Rink; Rita falls in love with Bill in Steel Pier, only to discover that she has been romanced by a ghost and finally must make it on her own; and while three generations of male voices may join in on "A Certain Girl," Jacques and Laurie part over "Seeing Things" in Happy Time.

Ironically, Molina's succumbing to the heterosexual allure of the Spider Woman figures death in Kiss. And in Steel Pier Precious McGuire is permitted to perform professionally "Two Little Words," a paean to heterosexual wedded bliss, as payment for betraying her husband sexually with the marathon emcee. Woman of the Year, the only one of their plays to deliver a traditional heterosexual romance, is also Kander and Ebb's least distinguished score.

In contrast, Kander and Ebb's scores admit the possibility of homosocial affection, the delights of gender confusion, and (in Kiss, at least) the self-sacrificing power of homosexual love.

"I never loved a man as much as I love you," Zorba tells Niko at the conclusion of that play's final number. Likewise, in a poignant moment in Happy Time, the first time that teenaged Bibi sings that he loves someone, it is to his free-spirited Uncle Jacques. The Emcee includes "boys" among the sexual attractions to be found in Cabaret; in the more permissive 1998 revival, the number "Two Ladies," which enacts on stage a ménage à trois, is performed not by a male and two females, as in the original production, but by a female and two males.

Extolling to a group of female prisoners the advantages of cooperating with her, Matron Mama Morton sings a song laden with lesbian sexual double entendres in Chicago: "Let's all stroke together, / Like a Princeton crew; / When you're stroking Mama, / She'll get hot for you."

In Kiss, Molina sings movingly of his love for Valentín in "Anything for Him." Strategically, Kander and Ebb give the only song in which homosexuality is accepted without reservation or qualification to a woman. In "You Could Never Shame Me," Molina's mother assures her imprisoned son that "I know that you're different, / I don't really care. / I would never change a hair."

Sexual Exuberance

This refusal to feel shame in sexual matters extends throughout Kander and Ebb's canon, making them the most sexually exuberant song writers for the musical theater since Cole Porter. Their music deals frankly with such physiological dynamics of sexual attraction as body odor ("I sniff at a woman," Zorba exults) and crotch-watching ("Nowadays you look at bulging trousers, / Some boy with bulging trousers, / And it isn't what you think, / He's got a gun," laments a group of neighbors in a declining neighborhood in The Rink).

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