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John Kander, Lin-Manuel Miranda on "New York, New York" on Broadway

"New York, New York" arrives on Broadway
"New York, New York" arrives on Broadway 07:13

Start spreadin' the news
I'm leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York

The music of John Kander and Fred Ebb, including scores they wrote for Broadway shows like "Cabaret," "Chicago," and "Curtains," has won four Tony Awards, two Grammys, two Emmys – and a street named after them in Times Square. Yet Kander, now 96, is utterly uninterested in all the hero worship. "I don't relate to it," he told "Sunday Morning." "I really don't, just as I don't relate to the fact that we're sitting here doing some sort of interview on television."

David Pogue pointed out, "You are now the longest-working Broadway composer in history."

"I think that's weird!" Kander replied. "I don't really feel much different than the insecure man that met you all those years ago."

Yes, Pogue worked with Kander back in 1987, when he played piano for Kander & Ebb's Off-Broadway show, "Flora, the Red Menace."

The composer always said that his music writes itself: "Music goes on in my head all the time, even while we're having this conversation," he said. "If I put my hands on the keyboard, they will do something."

Which they did.

Composer John Kander at the keyboard, with correspondent David Pogue.  CBS News

Pogue asked, "So, this is you composing right now? This is new stuff?"

"Yeah. It doesn't mean it's any good. It's just there!" he laughed.

For 45 years, Kander wrote the music, and Ebb wrote the lyrics. "Freddy and I were such different people," Kander said, "and yet, when we went into a room to work, all of that dropped away and we became one thing."

Fred Ebb died in 2004. And yet, this week a new Kander & Ebb musical opens on Broadway. It's "New York, New York," very loosely based on the 1977 movie, for which Kander & Ebb wrote five songs. For this new show, David Thompson co-wrote the script, and Susan Stroman is the director and choreographer. They, like Pogue, all worked together on "Flora, the Red Menace" back in 1987. "We all look the same!" laughed Stroman.

The cast of "New York, New York," which opens this week on Broadway. CBS News

I came here with nothing,
like hundreds before me,
and millions behind me… 

The musical is set in 1947, and tells five interwoven stories about aspiring musicians. "We wanted to celebrate artists who come to New York to change their lives, to be the best at what they do," said Stroman.

"It was right after the war; New York was hopeful," she said. "People were pulling plywood off the storefronts. There's something about that particular time that feels like the time now in New York. You know, We are gonna pull this city back up to where it used to be."

Some of the songs come from the movie (including "Happy Endings" and "But the World Goes 'Round"); some are Kander & Ebb songs that have never been heard before (including "A Simple Thing Like That" and "I'm What's Happening Now"); and some new songs feature lyrics or additional lyrics by another famous Broadway talent: Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of "In the Heights" and "Hamilton."

He saw an early draft of "New York, New York": "I was just so knocked flat by the show itself, a beautiful love letter to New York," said Miranda. "I just said, 'Whatever else you need, like, please let me know.'"

"For which we are not sorry!" laughed Kander.

John Kander and Lin-Manuel Miranda.  CBS News

Miranda described his job as "to be as fast as he is and just, you know, match him beat for beat."

One new song, "Can You Hear Me?," is set in Grand Central's whispering arch, an architectural quirk that lets you hear a whisper from 30 feet away:

When I heard you sing, it changed everything
Can you hear me?
Could you ever be with a wreck like me
Can you hear me?
Could I ever be a part of the song inside your heart? 

As for that song … what we all know as "New York, New York" is not the first version Kander & Ebb wrote in 1977. The movie's star, Robert De Niro, didn't like their original song, and asked that they try again. "Some actor was gonna tell us how to write a song?!" Kander exclaimed. "Anyway, we went to the piano, and the first thing that happened on the piano, with nothing in my head, was [the vamp]. And inside of that vamp is, Start spreading … and so we wrote that song in 45 minutes – I think partly because we were so pissed off!"

Their second attempt became world famous. 

Anna Uzele in "New York, New York."  CBS News

But Kander says he doesn't get what all the fuss is about. "I listened last night to that audience kind of roar when that song happened," he said. "I just don't understand it.

"Here's what I understand: I understand making stuff, and making stuff with your friends. I understand that every once in a while, you will make something that you love. And the sizzle inside your guts when that happens is something that nobody can take away from you."

To watch a preview of the new Broadway musical "New York, New York" click on the video player below:

New York, New York: A New Musical Trailer by New York, New York Broadway on YouTube

For more info:

Story produced by Kay Lim. Editor: Lauren Barnello. 

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