Review: #KANDERANDEBB, at the Stratford Festival.

by Lynn on September 18, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live, in person in Lazaridis Hall, Park of the Meighen Forum, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Festival, until tonight, Sept. 18, 2021.

Created and performed by Ryan G. Hinds

Music conductor, Mark Selby.

Performer-extraordinaire, Ryan G. Hinds, is on a mission. He is determined to bring musical theatre’s John Kander and Fred Ebb, composer/lyricist royalty, to the top of the mountain of musical-theatre notoriety. Kander and Ebb are known by musical-theatre aficionados but Ryan G. Hinds feels they have not been given their due in the larger context as someone else (whisper “Sondheim”). Hinds feels that song for song and show for show, John Kander and Fred Ebb have contributed witty, gritty, thought provoking shows that should put them at the top of their game.

Kander and Ebb have written such shows as Flora, The Red Menace, Cabaret, Zorba, Chicago, The Act, Woman of the Year, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Steel Pier, Fosse. Alas, Fred Ebb died in 2004, so the partnership ended, but what a run they had.

Ryan G. Hinds is too smart and gifted a performer to just do a show of the “best hits of” the two. So he did something clever. As the audience fills into the beautiful Lazaridis Hall of the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ont. we were treated to recordings of some of Kander and Ebb’s biggest hits, just to get it out of the way: Joel Grey singing “Willkommen” from Cabaret, Lorraine Serabian singing “Life Is” from Zorba (the original lyrics not the less mournful revised-feh-ones), Liza Minnelli singing whatever she wants from Cabaret, and something from Chicago.

When Ryan G. Hinds was introduced and entered the room with a flourish and panache we were ready for some reminiscence, smart commentary, gutsy singing and a lesson in musical-theatre history lore.

He didn’t disappoint. Hinds defines flamboyance but with sweetness: high-top silver sneakers, purple velvet leggings, a black top, a silvery glittery jacket, a precious gold necklace, glittery red lipstick and glittery eye shadow. His joy at being in that room in that place is disarming. His devotion to the work of Kander and Ebb is as well.

He sang a cross-section of works both familiar and not to give us a flavour of the brilliance of the work of Kander and Ebb. He had particular fondness for the short-lived Broadway run of Steel Pier. Hinds had actually seen that production on Broadway (and so did I but not together), and noted what he thought was lyricist Fred Ebb’s subtext (ahem) in the words. Fascinating.

He talked of his love of Kiss of the Spider Woman and did a medley from that show complete with wonderful lighting effect of a spider web that spread out behind him on the wall and ceiling. He also talked of the 12-year-old-kid who saw that show many times when it was trying out in Toronto, and the kind woman who talked to him every time he was at the stage door. That kid was him. The woman was Chita Rivera who was starring in the show. Hinds wanted to be in the theatre. Rivera encouraged him. Over the years they became friends. He considers her a mentor. The story is touching. His other show-biz stories are fascinating and funny too. The show is a hug to anyone who loves musical theatre done by Ryan G. Hinds, a man who has large, embracing arms. It had a very short run as part of the Meighan Forum at the Stratford Festival. I hope it has another life.

Plays until Sept. 18, 2021.  

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