42nd Street Moon toasts composer John Kander

The City’s shepherd of rare musicals 42nd Street Moon is taking a pause in its multiyear celebration of Jerome Kern to pay tribute to the music of the very accomplished and still very active John Kander at the Alcazar Theatre this week.

Most recently on Broadway with the controversial and critically acclaimed “The Scottsboro Boys,” Kander has provided the music to five decades of musicals from “Cabaret” through “Zorba.”

For the salon concert Thursday, Moon company members will sing a selection of Kander’s songs, featuring lyrics almost exclusively by his writing partner the late Fred Ebb. Joining them are special guests Karen Ziemba and Noah Racey, co-stars of the 2007 Kander & Ebb hit “Curtains.”

Ziemba, last seen here in 2004 in the Magic Theatre’s musical “The Opposite of Sex” with Kerry Butler and David Burtka, has a long history with the team, beginning with a 1991 Off-Broadway collection of their work called “And The World Goes ‘Round.”

Their subsequent collaborations include “Chicago,” “Curtains” and “Steel Pier.” Her role in the latter was written specifically for her and netted Ziemba a 1997 Tony nomination.

Kander and Ebb’s first Broadway show was 1965’s “Flora the Red Menace,” marking the Broadway debut of their longtime muse, Liza Minnelli.

“John and Fred were musical collaborators longer, I think, than any other team on Broadway,” says Ziemba. “It’s really a testament to how much they respected and learned from each other because they were really such different men.”

She describes Ebb’s lyrics — which she calls “his poetry” — as somewhat pragmatic but also hopeful. “He’d show the chinks in people’s armor but he would also look for a good outcome for the characters.”

Of Kander she says, “There are certain vamps and passages that John writes that set a tone and are instantly identifiable. He’s also written some very lush melodies.”

Noting that Kander and Ebb’s songs are very character driven, Ziemba allows that they can be successfully taken out of context.

“On ‘World Goes ‘Round,’ Scott Ellis and Susan Stroman really knew how to pull songs from very diverse story lines and create an arc of a show that was very complete in itself.

“It can work,” she says. “It takes a keen eye and somebody who deeply understands what the songs are trying to convey and can imagine that message in a different setting. After all, a good song is a good song. Right?”


And All That Jazz — A John Kander Salon

Alcazar Theatre, 650 Geary St., San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 27

Tickets: $70

Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org

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