Today in KC’s Music History: “Cabaret” Opens on Broadway

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Cabaret, the Tony Award-winning musical, debuted on Broadway on Nov. 20, 1966. John Kander, Cabaret’s composer, was born and grew up in Kansas City, Mo.

Kander seems to have been overlooked in Kansas City’s music history, which is a shame. He’s a top Broadway composer and has had a significant career in film and television. And, irony of ironies, he wrote the city of New York’s de facto theme song.

With the late lyricist Fred Ebb, Kander composed music for some of the most significant musicals of the last 50 years. In addition to Cabaret, they did Chicago, Woman of the Year and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

John Kander (at piano) and lyricist Fred Ebb.

For film, Kander composed music for Funny Lady, Kramer vs. Kramer and Places in the Heart. His most significant film work is probably New York, New York, for which he wrote the music for the title song. Frank Sinatra’s version in 1980 is his last single that made the Top 40 (No. 32 peak).

Kander was born in 1927 and attended Pembroke Country-Day School, one of KC’s most exclusive private schools. After college, Kander started his Broadway career as a substitute rehearsal pianist for West Side Story.

His first musical, A Family Affair, opened in 1962 and ran for 62 performances.

Cabaret’s track record is much different. It won seven Tony Awards (including one for Kander and Ebb for Best Composer and Lyricist) and ran for almost 1,200 performances. It’s been revived twice on Broadway and the 1972 film version starring Liza Minelli won eight Academy Awards.

During his career, Kander has won three Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards and two Grammy Awards.

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