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Kander, John (b. 1927) and Fred Ebb (1932?-2004)  
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"Everybody's Girl," which is Shelby's announcement of her sexual availability in Steel Pier, contains some of the most risqué lyrics written for the Broadway stage. The lines, "And so to reaffirm my status, / It's absolutely gratis / To use my apparatus," might have been spoken by Chaucer's Wife of Bath, while the asides that she makes during the song ("I could never be a cowhand's girl . . . I just can't keep my calves together" or "Men and me are like pianos. When they get upright, I feel grand!") are worthy of Mae West or Bette Midler.

Likewise, in "Wet" (also from Steel Pier) Rita coaxes Bill to strip to his skivvies to join her in a late night swim by cajoling him to "Show your nerve and show your shorts," one of the few times that the nude male body has been put on display in the American musical. In 70, Girls, a pair of physically affectionate septuagenarians musically taunts the audience for its unspoken curiosity: "Do We? / That's what you want to know."

"Nothing need be spoken, / All taboos are broken," Rita promises the sexually reluctant Bill in Steel Pier. This holds true for every one of Kander and Ebb's scores. Ultimately, in their music relationships come down to a life-sustaining intimacy.

You and I, love, you and I,
Take each minute for what's in it
As it's spinning by.
Win or lose, love, laugh or cry,
We can weather life together,
You and I. (70, Girls)

It is precisely because life is something to be "weathered"--because the world is a prison, a bread line, or a frenetic dance marathon--that every relationship is valuable, whatever the gender(s) of the persons involved. "Love, give me love, only love," Mme. Hortense sings in Zorba; "How good it is to feel, to touch, to care." It is risky to challenge the gender expectations of Broadway musical audiences, which are often composed of socially conservative people, but for Kander and Ebb, as Ida sings at the close of 70, Girls, one must always say "Yes" to whatever opportunity presents itself, especially "Yes, I'll touch."


Kander and Ebb occupy a curious place in American musical theater. Kander is as great a master of musical idioms as Sondheim, recreating the Kurt Weill-like sound of Depression-era Berlin for Cabaret, of the 1920s burlesque or vaudeville stage for Chicago, of an impoverished but lively Greek village for Zorba, and 1930s popular dance music for Steel Pier. His "The Happy Time" is as perfect a waltz as Richard Rodgers's title theme from Carousel or any of the numbers in 3/4 time that Sondheim fashioned for A Little Night Music.

Likewise, Ebb can be as tartly sardonic ("Nobody even says oops / When they're passing their gas. / Whatever happened to class?") as he can be lushly romantic ("Walking among my yesterdays"); his line "The hope of summer belies the frost" ("Yes," 70, Girls) is worthy of Elizabethan poet Thomas Nashe.

Yet neither "The Happy Time" nor "Yes" has entered the popular musical lexicon, and the pair remains best known to the public ear for "Theme from New York, New York," a song that proved far bigger than the film that it was created to serve, and for "Cabaret," which, ironically, is a character song during which a woman decides that she will have an abortion, and not the hymn to unfettered sensual experience that its numerous popular renditions have mistaken it to be.

Gay theater goers, however, hold Kander and Ebb in a particularly high regard. This is, in part, because the pair has given such "divas" as Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Lotte Lenya, and Lauren Bacall some of their best stage moments, and the relation of gay audiences to the musical theater depends in large part upon gay identification with the diva, as John M. Clum observes. More importantly, whatever their restrictions concerning the details of their personal lives, Kander and Ebb lived their careers in collaboration with other major gay theater talents like A. J. Antoon, Rob Marshall, and Terrence McNally, and helped realize on stage works by Christopher Isherwood and Manuel Puig that have defined gay sensibility.

But, perhaps most importantly, their songs emphasize the importance of refusing to accept only those relationships allowed by society, of the need to take a risk connecting with someone, and of somehow going on even when rejected ("Maybe This Time," "Somebody Older"). Theirs is a poetry of "You and I" that erases the boundaries of gender and age.

Raymond-Jean Frontain

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arts >> Overview:  Divas

The diva has traditionally played a significant role in both gay and lesbian culture as an object of cult worship with whom those who suffer the heartaches of forbidden love and ostracism from an unaccepting society find solace and identification.

arts >> Overview:  Musical Theater and Film

The musical has been a significant aspect of American gay male culture, manifesting itself both in diva worship and, more recently, in the presentation of openly gay characters and shows written by gay writers primarily for gay audiences.

literature >> Overview:  Musical Theater

There has always been homosexual involvement in American musical theatre and a homosexual sensibility even in straight musicals, and recently the Broadway musical has welcomed openly homosexual themes and situations.

arts >> Barrowman, John

Accomplished actor and singer John Barrowman has won plaudits as a musical theater star, as well as for his roles in film and television.

arts >> Condon, William "Bill"

Having earned critical acclaim for his work on Gods and Monsters (1998), Chicago (2002), and Kinsey (2004), screenwriter and film director William "Bill" Condon has become a leading American filmmaker.

arts >> Harris, Neil Patrick

Child actor Neil Patrick Harris has made a successful transition to mature roles, showcasing his singing and dancing abilities along the way; he has also spoken out on behalf of glbtq causes.

arts >> Herman, Jerry

A proponent of the "diva musical," Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman made homosexuality the undisguised subject of La Cage aux Folles but he did so just as gay culture lost its need of a diva to voice its concerns.

literature >> Isherwood, Christopher

A major Anglo-American novelist and a pioneer in the gay liberation movement, Christopher Isherwood created gay characters whose homosexuality is a simple given, an integral part of the wholeness of personality and an emblem of their common humanity.

arts >> Kert, Larry

Gay actor and singer Larry Kert introduced some of the most memorable songs in American musical theater.

literature >> McNally, Terrence

Texas-reared Terrence McNally, whose first play, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, was one of the great scandals of the 1964 New York season, emerged in the 1990s as America's most important gay playwright since Tennessee Williams.

arts >> Pierce, David Hyde

Award-winning actor David Hyde Pierce, best known for his comic performance on the long-running hit comedy television series Frasier, belatedly acknowledged his homosexuality in 2007.

arts >> Porter, Cole

Living the paradoxical life of an openly closeted gay man, songwriter Cole Porter introduced non-normative values and risqué double entendres into what was one of the most pedestrian and hackneyed of cultural forms.

literature >> Puig, Manuel

Homosexual themes and motifs are suggested in a number of Manuel Puig's eight novels, and in the best known of them, Kiss of the Spider Woman, homosexual desire is central to the fiction.

arts >> Shaiman, Marc (b. 1959), and Scott Wittman (b. 1955)

Composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist and director Scott Wittman, partners in life and collaborators in theater, film, and television projects, have a long list of credits in the entertainment industry.

arts >> Sondheim, Stephen

One of the most innovative talents of the musical theater in the second half of the twentieth century, Stephen Sondheim has only indirectly reflected his homosexuality in his work.


Hirsch, Foster. Harold Prince and the American Musical Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Kander, John, and Fred Ebb, with Greg Lawrence. Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration, and All That Jazz. New York: Faber and Faber, 2003.

Mordden, Ethan. Open a New Window: The Broadway Musical in the 1960s. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

_____. One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s. New York: Palgrave, 2003.

Shulman, Randy. "Ebb's Tide." Metro Weekly: Washington DC's Gay & Lesbian Magazine (June 19, 2003);

Tallmer, Jerry. "Sally Bowles' Muses." Gay City News 2, 44 (Oct.30-Nov. 5, 2003);


    Citation Information
    Author: Frontain, Raymond-Jean  
    Entry Title: Kander, John and Fred Ebb  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated July 9, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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