Accessibility links

Two Songwriting Teams Donate Their Papers to New York Library - 2004-06-16

Two of Broadway's most illustrious songwriting teams are giving their archives to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The gifts solidify the Library's reputation as the world foremost research center for musical theater. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the story.

John Kander and Fred Ebb and Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick have written the music and lyrics for hundreds of songs. Many, such as If I Were A Rich Man, All That Jazz, Sunrise, Sunset and Cabaret are known throughout the world by people who have never been inside a professional theater.

Now the two teams have announced they are giving their entire collections of personal and professional papers to the New York Library for the Performing Arts. The head of the New York Public Library system, Paul Le Clerc, calls it an exceedingly important moment for the Library,

"By giving these collections to an organization that is in New York City, that is the center of the musical theater community, these four truly exceptional and extraordinary talents, have now ensured that their work will remain accessible, accessible to students, accessible to scholars, accessible to throngs of fans not simply for years or decades, but for centuries to come," he said.

The Performing Arts Library possesses the collections of American theater icons like producer Joseph Papp, choreographer Jerome Robbins, impresario Florenz Ziegfeld and director-producer Hal Prince. Mr. Prince is a trustee of the Library, who calls the two teams the best of American musical theater.

"They represent musicianship, erudition, endless inquisitiveness, what you learn from reading, from writing," he said.

During their 40-year collaboration, Kander and Ebb wrote the music and lyrics for two of Broadway's most enduring hits, Chicago and Cabaret. A revival of Chicago, first produced in 1975, has been running on Broadway since 1996. "Cabaret," their dark musical about Nazi-era Berlin, won Broadway's top award for score when it debuted 1966 and influenced future generations of musicals.

A 1998 revival of "Cabaret " ran for years and was acclaimed by critics and the public. Movie versions of both shows became huge international hits. A 2002 movie version of Chicago won the Academy Award for best picture. Kander and Ebb also successfully adapted two movies, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Zorba the Greek, to Broadway.

Jackie Davis, the head of the Performing Arts Library, says the archives will allow students and scholars to trace the creative process in developing a hit show.

"The Cabaret collection contains spiral-bound manuscript books, transparencies, original holograms, lyric sheets, letters, rehearsal scripts, prop lists and much more, including the stage manager's script that includes the blocking and cues for Hal Prince's staging. All of the shows well-known songs are here," she notes.

John Kander says when he and Mr. Ebb discussed how to dispose of their papers, the Library for the Performing Arts was always their first choice

"It seemed like such an obvious place for musical theater people to leave their work," he adds. "The more people that do that, the more stuff that is here, the more important the collection becomes."

Composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiorello, and gained a cult following for She Loves Me."

But they are best known for Fiddler On the Roof, which debuted on Broadway in 1964 and was the longest running show of its time on Broadway. The show eventually became the basis for an enormously successful movie. A revival is currently playing on Broadway.

Bock and Harnick are donating all their papers pertaining to seven musicals that they collaborated on from 1958 until 1970, including songs that never made it into shows.

Jackie Davis says researchers, theater professionals and students, artists and writers will use the archives in a variety of ways

"I think part of the interesting thing for me is that anybody who comes here and is researching has an opportunity to see the ways in which these artists have worked, the ways in which they have succeeded, the notes on how they have not succeeded or failed," she says.

Kander and Ebb wrote shows with an edge that took Broadway in new directions with prisoners, murderesses and prostitutes as protagonists, but they are probably best-known for a tune they wrote for a movie; the song that has become synonymous with the city they call home.