On the evening following the Tony award ceremony, kudos were heaped upon composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, the songwriting team whose 35-year career has produced an impressive legacy of memorable songs and hit shows. The occasion was the York Theater Co. presentation of the 11th annual Oscar Hammerstein lifetime achievement award.
The Kander and Ebb songbook continues to play a major role on Broadway, with the Roundabout Theater Co. revival of “Cabaret” entering its third year, “Chicago” in its fourth year at the Shubert Theater and even a spillover of tunes included in “Fosse.”
The two-hour concert was hardly the typical “then we wrote” format of song revue. In fact such landmark tunes as “New York, New York,” the title number from “Cabaret” and “All That Jazz” were nowhere in earshot. A glittering assemblage of rising Broadway personalities and a couple of legends were on hand for the splashy benefit.
Robert Cuccioli, a vocal master of dark romanticism, revealed the sexual tension of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and Lea DeLaria, wrapped in a lethal feather boa, became “One of the Boys” from “Woman of the Year.”
Rosie O’Donnell sidekick John McDaniel played a plaintive piano wedding medley with the union of “Married” from “Cabaret” and “Marry Me” from “The Rink,” and Christiane Noll — fresh from her appealing turn as a Romberg barmaid in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “The Student Prince” — brought her dulcet tones to “A Quiet Thing” from “Flora, the Red Menace.”
Alan Cumming didn’t reprise his award-winning emcee role from “Cabaret,” instead offering “Maybe This Time,” a Kander and Ebb trunk tune which was long a staple of Liza Minnelli’s club and concert act and eventually found its way into the film version of “Cabaret” — and the Roundabout revival.
Tony winner Susan Stroman and Scott Ellis paired to honor the guests of honor with Tommy Thompson’s altered lyrics for “Sara Lee,” the delightful early patter song which was used in the Kander and Ebb revue “And the World Goes Round.” “Zorba” was recalled with a plaintive reading of “Only Love” by Olympia Dukakis, followed by a haunting duet by Noll and Cuccioli of “Why Can’t I Speak?”
A warming turn from a vet musical comedy character actor found George S. Irving recalling the charms of “A Certain Girl” from “The Happy Time,” and joining the irrepressible Jane Connell for the delightfully droll “Do We?” from “70 Girls 70.”
Charles Busch — garbed as a stylish film goddess — joined Valerie Wright, who appeared as a very pregnant and prim housewife for “The Grass is Always Greener,” another witty musical dialogue from “Woman of the Year.”
A knockout appearance by Ann Reinking found her vamping “Nowadays” with her own special brand of razzle-dazzle. Confined by the carpeted set design for Neil Simon’s “Hotel Suite,” the current Gramercy Theater resident, Reinking opted not to dance, but those famous gams still generously graced center stage.
The surprise closer turned out to be Joel Grey, the elegant song and dance man who first introduced Sally Bowles and the divine decadence of the Kit Kat Klub. Vaudevillian grace and wiry grandeur still mark Mr. Grey’s performance of his signature, “Wilkommen.”
Master of ceremonies for the event was Mario Cantone, whose Kander and Ebb link was an appearance as a harried stage manager in the out-of-town “Over and Over,” last year’s musicalization of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” Cantone’s overlong monologue included some tasteless jabs.
Presentation of the award was made by a radiant Karen Ziemba, still aglow from her previous eve’s Tony honor. Ebb quipped that he hoped “lifetime achievement” didn’t mean they were finished. “We still have more to do!” he added.