Colored Lights Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration, and All That Jazz

John Kander and Fred Ebb as told to Greg Lawrence; With an Introduction by Liza Minnelli and a Foreword by Harold Prince

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb were the longest-running composer-lyricist partnership in Broadway history, having first joined forces in 1962. (Ebb died in 2004.) The fruits of their collaboration an ever-exciting blend of the traditional and the modern helped push American musical theater in a more daring direction, both musically and dramatically. At the same time, their influence and impact on individual performers, while less well known, was also substantial. As their longtime friend and protégée Liza Minnelli writes in her introduction, "John and Fred made everything possible."

Told through a dialogue between the two men and enlivened with excerpts from Fred Ebb's lyrics and sixteen pages of photographs, Colored Lights is a unique and wonderful work. Starting with Flora, the Red Menace, their first show together, and continuing with such groundbreaking works as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, John Kander and Fred Ebb ably assisted by Greg Lawrence discuss their lives and careers with the same wit and acuity that distinguish their work for the stage, concluding with a lively discussion of the recent Academy Award-winning film adaptation of Chicago and of their final musical, The Visit.

Whether they are exploring what goes into creating a truly original work such as Cabaret, reflecting on what makes a song succeed (and what makes a singer a great singer rather than merely a good one), or discussing how their own collaborative process works, John Kander and Fred Ebb provide a rich, one-of-a-kind history not only of their own careers but also of the American musical theater of the late twentieth century.


Praise for Colored Lights

"Illuminating . . . [A] frank, funny memoir."—Melissa Rose Berbardo, Entertainment Weekly

"A wonderful, easy read . . . A must for musical theatre fans."—Andrew Gans, Playbill

"Not only endlessly entertaining and revealing about the world of musical theater, but something of a master class in the art of crafting words and music for the stage."—David Cuthbert, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

"A snappy collaboration . . . Kander and Ebb are an indispensable partnership."—Benjamin Ivry, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"There is a song in Flora, the Red Menace called 'All I Need Is One Good Break.' I got my good break when I met Kander and Ebb. I can't think of a better way to hear the history of Broadway than from the masters themselves."—Susan Stroman

"Even though I've had the privilege and great happiness of collaborating with John Kander and Fred Ebb, I've always wanted to be a fly on the wall of the music room in Fred's apartment, where they write together after I've gone. Colored Lights is that fly. It is filled with fascinating, illuminating, and very, very savvy stuff. It is the authentic voice of these two iconic gentlemen themselves."—Terrence McNally

"I recognized Fred Ebb and John Kander's talent at the very beginning, and now the world has. They are the best—a class act!"—Kaye Ballard

"A fascinating conversation with Broadway's greatest collaborators. You are constantly moved by John and Fred's warmth, humor, humility, and undeniable brilliance."—Rob Marshall

"I was enthralled reading Colored Lights. It made me proud that I was fortunate enough to have performed their play, Woman of the Year. They stood by my side when I wanted to sing a ballad (the title of which escapes me at the moment) that they wrote, and was subsequently taken out, but I wanted to sing the number when I heard the score. They treated all this 'drama' as if I was originating the show. The song was put in because they loved it also. The number was a smash! I adore their talents! I adore them! I loved their book!!"—Debbie Reynolds

"It was a joy working with Kander and Ebb and this book shows what makes them so special. They are not only brilliantly talented, they are totally honest and have a deep respect for each other, for their colleagues, and for the musical theater. Colored Lights gets you to know two wonderful guys who became one creative team."—Joe Stein, co-writer of the musicals Zorba the Greek and Fiddler on the Roof

"To work with Kander and Ebb is a lovefest beyond compare. To be their friend is even more so. They are words and music. I am theirs, whenever they want me."—Lauren Bacall

"Whoever is fortunate enough to read this book will find himself (or herself) in the delightful company of two highly intelligent, vastly talented, totally unaffected, witty, candid, and articulate theater artists, sharing their reminiscences, comments, and 40 years of friendship. What a treat!"—Sheldon Harnick, lyricist, Fiddler on the Roof

"These thoughts and anecdotes from two great American artists make for a funny and fascinating book."—Ann Reinking

"Wa wa wow
Boy oh boy
All that jazz
All that joy
From my heart
Simply said
Who's the best?
John and Fred!" —Jerry Herman

"These light, chatty interviews [survey] the work and lives of two of Broadway's more successful practitioners, longtime songwriting collaborators John Kander and Fred Ebb. Each of the team's shows, misses as well as hits, is discussed, with special attention paid to Chicago, a bomb when it opened in 1975 but a worldwide hit in its 1996 revival and as an Oscar-winning movie. As-told-to co-author Greg Lawrence has made the book resemble conversations between Kander and Ebb that readers just happen to be listening in on, to utterly beguiling effect. The collaborators speak with the ease of men who have slogged through thick and thin and still very much enjoy one another's company."—Jack Helbig, Booklist

"Anyone who enjoys musical theater will delight in this anecdotal memoir by an accomplished musical team who began their partnership in 1962. The text, a series of conversations told to Lawrence, reads like an extended gossip column written with style and wit. Composer Kander and lyricist Ebb collaborated on many Broadway shows including their first, Flora, the Red Menace; Cabaret; and Chicago. Their recollections bring the golden age of musical theater to life and reveal the nuts and bolts of creating a score for a successful musical. The two reminisce freely about stars such as Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, and Bob Fosse, with whom they had close working relationships. They lavishly praise Minnelli's talent and charm and are compassionate about her emotional ups and downs. Streisand, however, is damned with faint praise, and Ebb recounts abusive treatment from Bob Fosse, who had undergone a recent heart bypass operation, while they were working on Chicago. In another vignette, Kander and Ebb describe how they came to write the title song for the film New York, New York for Martin Scorsese. Although they were offended when Robert DeNiro criticized their first attempt, the new version was the one that became their greatest single hit."—Publishers Weekly

par"Composer Kander and lyricist Ebb joined forces in 1962 and [were] the longest-running partnership on Broadway. They chose 19-year-old unknown Liza Minnelli to star in their first show, Flora, the Red Menace, and went on to create such groundbreaking musicals as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spiderwoman. Here, Kander and Ebb look back at their careers, recounting their experiences working with Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Bob Fosse, and many other show-biz luminaries of the past 40 years. Their theatrical successes—and failures—are discussed fondly, interspersed with personal comments by some of their producers, directors, and stars. Lyrics to their most popular show tunes are an appealing addition to their dialogue. Kander and Ebb come across as two likeable and modest gentlemen . . . A delightful addition to theater collections in academic and public libraries."—Library Journal

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Read an Excerpt

Colored Lights

And Then We Wrote
Broadway's longest-running music-and-lyrics team, John Kander and Fred Ebb marked the fortieth anniversary of their collaboration with a series of conversations aimed at...

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  • John Kander and Fred Ebb as told to Greg Lawrence; With an Introduction by Liza Minnelli and a Foreword by Harold Prince

  • Greg Lawrence is the author or co-author of six books, including Gelsey Kirkland's bestselling Dancing on My Grave and a biography of Jerome Robbins. He lives in New York City.