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‘Curtains’ raised on Kander & Ebb show

Composer's latest bows at the Ahmanson Theater in July

John Kander is having an epiphany. When asked about his new murder-mystery musical “Curtains,” written with his late longtime collaborator Fred Ebb, Kander has cause to marvel aloud, “Holy mackerel! We’ve killed an awful lot of people in our shows!”

As he is the first to point out, he and Ebb have created a pile of corpses since they began collaborating in 1965: “We killed people in ‘Chicago,’ ‘Zorba,’ ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman,’ ‘Happy Time,’ ‘Steel Pier.’ We sort of kill them in ‘Cabaret.’ I don’t know what that says about Fred and me. I don’t want to examine that too much.”

Legit auds, however, can come to their own conclusion this summer (July 25-Sept. 10) when “Curtains” has its world premiere at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater.

Unless radical rewrites take place in previews, this Kander & Ebb tuner may have more dead bodies than all their other shows combined. A downer, however, it is not. “In spite of the long list of murders, it is, maybe, our first out-and-out comedy,” Kander says.

“Curtains” tells the story of a detective, played by David Hyde Pierce, who investigates the many murders emanating from a Broadway-bound musical that harbors more than its share of out-of-town troubles. The same might be said of “Curtains.”

“I can’t begin to tell you what year we started on it,” Kander says of the long-gestating project.

Peter Stone (“1776”) was the original book writer. His death in 2003 was followed a year later by Ebb’s.

“I am the sole surviving member of the collaboration,” says Kander. “After Peter’s death, (director) Scott Ellis became interested in it, and he brought Rupert Holmes into the picture. Rupert has really rewritten the whole book.”

In one important respect, “Curtains” is a first for Kander, since it’s his only songwriting collaboration with someone other than Ebb.

“There are songs in the show that I wrote with Fred, some I wrote by myself, and some songs I wrote with Rupert,” he says. Which is not to say it is the very last Kander & Ebb show. Kander remains very much “devoted” to “The Minstrel Show” and a musical version of “The Skin of Our Teeth,” which gets a regional production next March.

“We are very different people,” Kander says of himself and Ebb. “But when we walked into that room together we became a kind of third person. Somehow what came out was Kander & Ebb. It was not either of us. It was that strange combination.”

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