He wrote his first song on the back of some matchbooks. But by the time Fred Ebb passed away Sept. 11 at the age of 76, his lyrics, set to the music of lifelong collaborator John Kander, had come to define Broadway at its best.
''Fred Ebb was pure showbiz,'' says Rob Marshall, who directed the Oscar-winning
2002 film version of Kander and Ebb's 1975 murder musical, Chicago. ''For most of us, and me especially, he represents New York.'' Ebb was, after all, the man who wrote, ''If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere'' in the indelible movie theme about his hometown, ''New York, New York.''
Kander and Ebb's four-decade partnership yielded hits like the stage versions of Woman of the Year (1981) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and fueled the careers of director Hal Prince, Chita Rivera, Bob Fosse, and, more than anyone else, ''Liza With a Z.'' ''I will always be the most proud of the fact that all of those wonderful Kander and Ebb songs were written for me,'' said Liza Minnelli, whose performances -- from Flora the Red Menace to her star-making turn as Cabaret's Sally Bowles -- are the essence of Fred Ebb's legacy: Sometimes you just gotta step into the spotlight, throw back your head, and sing.