‘New York, New York’ Cast Celebrates Kander and Ebb’s Legacy as New Musical Opens on Broadway

·4-min read

It’s quiet on the roof of the St. James Theater. Up here, less than 10 stories above 44th Street, the clamor of an opening night on Broadway drifts away. Below, titans of the American theater — actors like Chita Rivera and Joel Grey — are gathering to attend the opening night of a new musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb, a duo who gave Broadway shows like “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” But on the roof — on top of “New York, New York” — the air is still.

Up here, in the few moments of serenity before red carpet interviews, an opening night performance and a long evening of parties, the musical’s two stars, Colton Ryan and Anna Uzele — newcomers to all the fuss below — stop to catch their breath.

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“I consider this city to be a second chance at life,” Uzele told Variety. “I came from a place that I don’t really want to return to, and this city offered me a new shot. Seeing the skyline right now like this, I could weep at the sight of it, because it offered me something I haven’t found anywhere else. What we sing about in the show, about coming to New York to find music, money and love, almost seems possible in moments like this.”

In “New York, New York,” Uzele plays Francine Evans, one of several loosely drawn New York musicians trying to make it big in the city after World War II. The musical is a light adaptation of the 1977 Martin Scorsese film of the same name, a movie for which Kander and Ebb penned that most famous song. While Ebb passed away in 2003, Kander, 93, is still feverishly at work and brings the new musical “New York, New York” to Broadway with additional lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and direction from Susan Stroman.

On the roof of the St. James — amid the water towers and the soaring marquee — “New York, New York” is best imagined. Up here is a fantasy few see, an imagination of the city the musical is interested in. Below, the real muck and grime of Times Square doesn’t quite figure into the saccharine sweet mythology of “I want to be part of it” that gives the musical its reason to be.

“When I first got the script, I hadn’t opened it, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘I wonder how involved the hospitality department of New York is,’” Ryan, the show’s leading man, told Variety on top of the St. James, wind sweeping his shaggy curls.

“But I saw John and Fred’s name on the page, and the way their music encompasses what it means to be in New York convinced me,” he said. “Just wanting to be here isn’t enough, wanting success isn’t enough. My character suffers his way through this show. He sees all four seasons of New York in a bad way, but the summer comes again. When we get to the end of the musical, singing ‘New York, New York’ like the Yankees just won, it feels natural and easy and good to be in this show.”

Ryan’s last production, “Girl From The North Country,” shuttered in Broadway’s pandemic closure.

“Yes, I have been on Broadway before, but I’m more proud that I’m the man I wanted to be when I first came here,” he said. “I was lucky to have some breaks, both of which have their own sort of asterisks. Now, my feet are in the soil, my head is in the clouds.”

Down below, on the red carpet rolled along 44th Street, a near caricature of a Broadway opening night played out, a coming-together of its many stars to celebrate the legacy of Kander and Ebb — and one more musical.

“He’s my friend, and John and Freddie are responsible for my being who I am, whatever I am,” Rivera, who originally starred in Kander and Ebb’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” told Variety on the red carpet. “I can’t decipher how I feel about him, about coming to see another of his shows on Broadway, unless we have a few hours.”

Nearby, Joel Grey, now 91, who created the role of the Emcee in “Cabaret,” said only a few words. “John Kander was my first love,” he told Variety, turning to embrace Kander on the red carpet. Over 56 years and a few feet away from the Broadhust Theater, where “Cabaret” opened in 1966, Grey clutched Kander’s shoulder and said in his ear: “This is the best ever.”

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