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How does it feel to see the mainstream public excited about work you
did more than 25 years ago?
and Kander have turned out such hits as Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider
Woman, and Chicago
It's thrilling. What's satisfying is that Chicago got very mixed
reviews in 1975, but when its revival in New York came about in the mid-'90s,
some 21 years later, some of the same critics who hadn't liked it before,
now suddenly did. And interestingly enough, it was the same script, the same
orchestrations, the same choreographic approach as what we had done originally.
That has amused and bewildered me.
Was the world not ready for Chicago in 1975?
I have no idea. It was a cynical world then. People say that society
is much more cynical now than it was then, but that's not true. We'd been
through Watergate, we'd been through lots of scandals. I don't know
what caused the change. I'm just glad it happened.
Why do you think Chicago and Cabaret were brought back in increasingly
edgy and sexual forms?
The Chicago production is no more sexual than the original. Cabaret is much more so--though not for its time. When Cabaret was first done in the '60s,
it seemed like a very fresh, sexy, and sometimes outrageous piece of work. But
what seemed fresh, sexy, and outrageous in the 1960s doesn't today. [Directors]
Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall found ways to give the shows the same impact on an
audience today as they had all those years ago.
Both Cabaret and Chicago deal with deviancy, or, at least,
deviant characters. But you don't strike me as deviant.
I never thought about that before. I think deviant is the wrong
word, because it assumes that the characters are deviating from
Jazz and gin
and sex were very popular in 1924 and 1926, as were those clubs
In one sense, generations have not changed. Society has always
been fascinated with sex, but always from the standpoint of, "Oh, look how shocking that
is." In the meantime, people can't wait to open the New
York Post and read about all the scandals. It's enormous hypocrisy, and it's
always been there. So if you say we were writing about a deviant society in Cabaret and Chicago, then it's a deviant audience that's lapping it up.
Is Chicago a cautionary tale?
Oh, sure. Corruption is rampant in the midst of seemingly high
moral ground, and we're all manipulated tremendously. We have an attorney general who
is the Christian of all Christians and who cannot wait to enforce the death penalty
whenever he can. We have a president who with every smarmy, moralizing statement
represents interests of great greed. So corruption is always there. Corruption
and hypocrisy go hand-in-hand.
Congratulations on the Oscar nomination.
Thank you. I've always found it weird that we weren't nominated for
New York, New York in 1978, which I guess is the most popular song we ever wrote.
But neither were the Bee Gees for Saturday Night Fever that same year. Still,
the nomination this year was really swell. I think of these things as luck. Sometimes
you get slammed for good work and praised for mediocre work, so I don't
take these things quite so seriously. I do think that
I Move On is a good song, and I'm pleased that the project itself is getting
recognition. But I don't know what it means in terms of the life of the
What do you mean by "the life of the movie?"
These award nominations help promote the movie and give
it a longer life and bigger audience. When Cabaret came
prolonged the life of the movie commercially.
You're pretty self-effacing...how do you feel about
your own work?
Sometimes I like it very much, sometimes I think it's…[a sound of
disapproval]. I don't pass judgment on my own work in terms of popularity
or what other people say. On those few occasions when I've written something
that I really like, it's secondary to me if other people like it. On the
other hand, if I've written something mediocre and it becomes a big hit,
it doesn't make me admire it more. I just count my blessings.
Do you have a favorite piece of your own work?
No, I couldn't say that. Musically, I was happiest with my own work
on Steel Pier and The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. I think the score
for Chicago is good, and that Fred's lyrics are brilliant--the
most dazzling set of lyrics I've ever seen in one show.
Many writers and composers work solo, locking themselves
in a tiny garret for hours and never talking to anybody. But you've
always worked with a partner.
That's the nature of working in the theater; it's very collaborative.
Fred and I have been working together since 1962. Basically, our music
is all written in the same way. I usually go to Fred's house,
where we work in a small room with a piano. We write at the same time.
at the same time. We play games. We write fast, and we tear up very fast.
We like to write, so the act of rewriting is not an awful experience
for us. Writing is the most fun part, and we've always had a good time. I'm
a bit suspicious of people who suffer for their art, because the music that we
torture ourselves over ends up sounding like we tortured over it. If I wasn't
having a good time writing music, I wouldn't do it.
Between Chicago and Moulin Rouge, it appears as though the movie musical
is back. What can we expect?
Well, [screenwriter] Bill Goldman '52, another Oberlin graduate who is
much wiser about film than I am, has said we can now expect a rash of really
terrible musicals over the next few years. It all depends on talent. When you
get somebody like Rob Marshall in charge of a project, it's going
to be classy. I hope that the commercial success of Chicago and Moulin
Rouge will make
film studios braver. We all know that if a successful movie makes money,
it will be followed by a rash of imitations, most of which are not so
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