Tunesmiths feted at Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel

Chita Rivera recalled a phone call from John Kander and Fred Ebb when they previewed a new song for her. “Tell me that’s not the greatest tribute!” the two-time Tony award winner boasted, “and imagine the thrill to hear 55,000 people standing to sing ‘New York, New York’ at Yankee Stadium.”

The occasion was the fifth annual Japan Music Awards, presented Monday evening at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel, for contributions to musical theater. Tunesmiths Kander and Ebb, creators of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “The Rink” and last season’s “Steel Pier” are currently on the boards with two smash revivals, “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”

The annual fete, sponsored by the Bandai Foundation, Toho Music Corp. and Continental Airlines, included comments by actress Mizuki Oura, an appreciation by critic Chieko Kotoda, and a medley of the team’s trademark tunes by musical director Peter Howard.

Beginning with the plaintive “A Quiet Thing” from “Flora, the Red Menace,” Howard breezed through the title tunes from “The Rink” and “Cabaret,” wrapping up the tribute with an insinuating version of “All That Jazz.”

Rivera, a former Japan music award honoree, along with producer Harold Prince and composer Stephen Sondheim, named her twin Tonys after John and Fred. The actress praised the team, noting the “hope and humanity” of their work and “the seamless blend of music and lyrics, which never leaves a gap between song and story.”

The ceremony also included a $5,000 cash gift to Niagara University. Continental exec Kay O. Ikawa also welcomed Kander and Ebb to a forthcoming initial visit there.

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