ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. TONIGHT at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and runs through May 29. This year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
Music is always a part of every good Fringe Festival, and this year singer Ryan G. Hinds is saluting two of Broadway’s legendary songwriters, John Kander and Fred Ebb, the creative team behind such shows as “Cabaret” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
“#Kander And Ebb” is, as Ryan noted, “where Broadway show tunes, celebrity gossip, and kinky sex meet!” As a lifelong fan of the songwriters, who got to know, Ryan said this show will allow audiences to not only rediscover and appreciate their work, but also find out “how a queer kid from Toronto found himself in a rehearsal studio with Liza Minnelli, the secret sexiness behind one of their most wholesome shows, and why you should always meet your heroes.”
In the show, Hinds will perform songs from “Cabaret,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Funny Lady,’ “Chicago,” “The Visit,” “Flora The Red Menace,” and more, with Giustin MacLean on piano.
Ryan, the ﬁrst black actor to play the role of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” has performed with Liza Minnelli, Todrick Hall, Debbie Reynolds, Billy Stritch, Lady Bunny, and many more.
Freeline Media contacted Ryan to find out more about this show.
Freeline Media: What made you decide to create a show devoted to the music of Kander and Ebb?
Ryan G. Hinds: John Kander and Fred Ebb’s music was always what I gravitated to for auditions or whenever someone needed a number for a show, while everyone else I knew sang Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown. Whenever I sang their music, people would connect to it in a powerful way, so I knew there was something there to deal with. The show is from a fan’s perspective, but I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with them enough times to have some unique insight on their work, and John is a sweet, sweet man who has been nothing but encouraging. Their music is like the blackest coffee with the sweetest sugar, and finding the colors in it is a real joy. More than any other songwriters’, their music feels truest to me as a singer and performer.
FM: Tribute shows often feature renditions of the songwriters’ classics. Is there also a narrative with this one?
Ryan: Right out of the box, we’re breaking the mold, as this show doesn’t include most of their classics! We skip “New York, New York” and “Cabaret” and “Maybe This Time” in favor of some of their lesser-performed songs like “I Do Miracles,” “How Lucky Can You Get” from the “Funny Girl” sequel, and “A Powerful Thing.” There’s a loose narrative around what’s it like to be a Grade-A level theater geek and then find yourself around the people you’ve idolized and looked up to for years, combined with a lot of showbizzy stories, gayness galore, and gorgeous tunes. It’s both a funny history lesson and a valentine to John, Fred, and their work.
FM: Do you remember first discovering their work, and was it any one show in particular?
Ryan: When I was 12, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” had its out of town try-out in Toronto, produced by Garth Drabinksy. From the first note of the score, I was in love …. both with the music and the woman singing it, Chita Rivera. She ended up becoming a mentor, and much of what I have learned about the theater, performing, and life itself came from her. We have a big “Spider Woman” sequence in the show that showcases their incredible work on it and what Chita has come to mean to me over the years.
With its blend of sex, death, glamour, pain, humor, violence, and passion, “Spider Woman” has shaped much of my style and aesthetic. At the time it made perfect sense to me that a pre-teen would love a show like that, but several years ago I was chatting with John in Chita’s dressing room at the Williamstown festival, and when it came out that I saw “Spider Woman” at age 12 … he nearly choked: “You were TWELVE?!?!?!?” I’m 37 now, and have been doing “#KanderAndEbb” for three years to success in both Canada and the U.S. …. and I can trace it all back to being 12 years old and hearing the opening tremolo notes of “Spider Woman.”
FM: Just out of curiosity, will Liza M. make an appearance?
Ryan: Any show about Kander and Ebb music is going to include some Liza, and if we didn’t include her the audience would revolt! We even joke about that in the show, and it’s definitely a challenge to do some of the Liza songs without “doing” her. She’s a true artist and a unique talent, and we also talk about why in the show; she elevated Kander and Ebb’s music, and they elevated her artistry, so we honor that as much as we can. In a rehearsal studio, she’s an extremely hard worker, and seeing that up close was a real education.
FM: What do you see as Kander and Ebb’s lasting contribution to Broadway music?
Ryan: More than most, they wrote their songs with a specificity around character and story. Other songwriters may have broader name recognition, but Kander and Ebb’s consistent excellence over a 50-year span ensure that as long as there is theater, we’ll be hearing their songs. Outside of their big anthems, their vision of the world has poetry and romance and humor, and those things are forever!
“#Kander & Ebb” will be performed in the Purple Venue on the following dates:
* Thursday May 18 at 8:45 p.m.
* Saturday May 20 at 3 p.m.
* Sunday May 21 at 12:45 p.m.
* Tuesday May 23 at 10:30 p.m.
* Thursday May 25 at 5:45 p.m.
For tickets visit Orlando Fringe.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..