With composer John Kander, Ebb enjoyed one of the most enduring and successful writing partnerships in Broadway history, spanning nearly 40 years. Their first musical Flora, The Red Menace, about a group of young Communists, premiered in 1965 starring a 19-year-old Liza Minnelli. This was followed by shows including The Happy Time, Zorba, Woman of the Year, The Rink, Kiss of the Spiderwoman and 70, Girls, 70. But their biggest hits by far were Cabaret and Chicago.
Cabaret, set in the lurid Kit Kat Klub of pre-war Nazi Germany, premiered on Broadway in 1966, when it ran for three years and won Tony Awards for Best Composer and Lyricist and Best Musical. In 1998, Sam Mendes’ Donmar Warehouse revival transferred to Broadway, running until earlier this year. The 1972 Oscar-winning film version starred Minnelli as singer Sally Bowles.
Chicago has proved even more successful. Premiered on Broadway in 1975, when it ran for two years, it was revived in 1996 and continues to run at New York’s Ambassadors Theatre. A separate West End production, care of the same creative team, opened in November 1997 at London’s Adelphi Theatre and went on to win the 1998 Olivier for Outstanding Musical Production and the 1998 Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical. It’s currently booking up to 4 June 2005.
The 2002 Hollywood version of Chicago – starring Renee Zellwegger and Catherine Zeta Jones as murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly with Richard Gere as razze-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn - became one of the most successful movie musicals of all time. Amongst its many prizes were no fewer than six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Kander and Ebb’s last original Broadway musical was 1997’s Steel Pier, while the subsequent The Visit premiered in Chicago in 2001. The team had been working on a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, titled Over and Over , as well as a murder-mystery musical called Curtains.
Born on New York’s Lower East Side and always vague about his real age, Ebb’s birth date is commonly listed as 8 April 1933. However, after consultation with his family, the funeral home has decided to list his age as 76.
Also passed away on Saturday was Irish-born Margaret Kelly, dancer and founder-manager of the Bluebell Girls, who performed around the world, employing more than 12,000 British women for shows in Paris, Hong Kong, Rio De Janeiro, Las Vegas and elsewhere. Like Ebb, Kelly was coy about her real age. Her birth date is listed as 12 June 1912, but she is believed to have been born two years earlier. She was 94.
- by Terri Paddock