CABARET, the landmark musical from director/producer Harold Prince, songwriters Kander & Ebb, and librettist Joe Masteroff, celebrated its 50th anniversary this weekend. To honor a half-century of this groundbreaking and brilliant work, we present…
2. The original run played in three different houses (The Broadhurst, The Imperial, and The Broadway) and ran for 1,165 performances.
3. The show is a musical adaptation of I AM A CAMERA, John Van Druten’s 1951 play based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories.
5. Harold Prince, who had just produced the smash FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, directed and produced CABARET.
6. Prince wanted CABARET to reflect both its original era and the world of 1966. “I brought in a photograph from Life magazine,” he said. “A two-page spread of a bunch of blond Aryan Nazi boys snarling at the camera, some wearing religious icons, and all stripped to the waist, and I said, ‘Who are these people, and where is this?’ No one guessed.” They were actually Americans demonstrating against the integration of a Chicago housing development in 1966. Prince used the photo “to support the contention that wherever human beings are, terrible things potentially can happen.”
7. Before CABARET, the show’s songwriting team of John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) had collaborated on only one other Broadway musical: FLORA, THE RED MENACE, starring Liza Minnelli in a Tony-winning performance.
8. Early in its development, the show focused on Sally and Cliff, with a lengthy but separate “Welcome to Berlin” sequence in the middle. Later, that sequence and all the Cabaret songs were moved to the show’s end. Neither choice served the show well. Finally, Prince integrated the abstract musical revue into the traditional narrative about Sally and Cliff by using the songs as interjected commentary and distinguishing “real life” from abstraction with special lighting.
9. Russian-born set designer Boris Aronson created a world in limbo: a vague and seedy club environment merged with detailed domestic settings in prewar Berlin. The most striking element of his set was a giant mirror reflecting the audience.
10. 68-year-old Lotta Lenya, who had lived and performed in Weimar Germany herself (and was the widow of composer Kurt Weill), returned to the stage after decades to play Fraulein Schneider.
11. The song “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes,” which the Emcee sings about a dancer in a gorilla suit, was meant to shock audiences with its brutal anti-Semitism. But during the Boston tryout, audiences complained, so the song’s final lyric, “She wouldn’t look Jewish at all,” was cut and replaced. The line was restored for the film version and remains in the licensed script.
12. CABARET won eight Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Composer & Lyricist, Best Choreography, Best Costume Design, Best Scenic Design, Best Featured Actor in A Musical (Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies) and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Peg Murray as Fraulein Kost).
13. Years later, Frank Rich later recalled seeing CABARET in Boston when he was just a teenager. “We didn’t know what it was. But you absolutely felt you were seeing something completely new,” he said. “This was very much a glamorous Broadway musical that was about the collapse of the society, about Nazis taking over Germany, and told through song and dance and this sort of Brechtian alienation and fantastic stagecraft– and it was mind-blowing.”
14. Alan Cumming and cast wowed ’em at the Tony Awards:
15. Kander & Ebb were not the first composers to tackle this subject. Sandy Wilson, creator of THE BOY FRIEND, had been working on a musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories, which he titled GOODBYE TO BERLIN.
16. When the rights to Isherwood’s stories lapsed, Hal Prince acquired them and hired Joe Masteroff to write the book. Prince and Masteroff felt that Wilson’s score didn’t capture the sound of Weimar Berlin, so they hired Kander & Ebb.
18. Joel Grey, who played the Emcee, had appeared in the ensemble of five other Broadway shows before CABARET, but he had never originated a lead role.
19. Bert Convy, who originated the role of Cliff, went on to great success as a host of TV Game shows, including Tattletales and Win, Lose or Draw.
20. Liza Minnelli auditioned for the role of Sally in the Broadway production, but she didn’t get the part. “But I knew I’d get the movie for some reason,” she told The Huffington Post. “I remember saying to myself, “That’s all right, I’ll do the film.”
21. CABARET was the third Broadway musical that Ron Field choreographed. His first two shows, NOWHERE BUT UP (1962) and CAFÉ CROWN (1964) were both flops. (With CABARET, he won his first of three Tony Awards.)
22. Tom Morrow painted the show’s poster art, featuring a bustling nightclub. Morrow had worked with Hal Prince on several other shows, including FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and SHE LOVES ME. (Check out the top-hatted pig on the upper right!)
24. The first West End production opened on February 28, 1968 at the Palace Theatre, starring Dame Judi Dench as Sally.
25. The first Broadway revival opened at the Imperial Theatre on October 22, 1987, again directed by Hal Prince, choreographed by Ron Field, and featuring Joel Grey as the Emcee. The revival ran for 261 performances.
26. In 1993, Sam Mendes directed a new production of the show for the Donmar Warehouse in London’s West End. It starred Jane Horrocks as Sally and Alan Cumming as the Emcee.
27. The second Broadway revival, based on the 1993 Mendes-Donmar Warehouse production, opened on March 19, 1998 at the Kit Kat Klub, in what previously had been known as Henry Miller’s Theatre. For the Broadway transfer, Rob Marshall was brought on board as co-director/ choreographer.
29. The 1998 revival was nominated for ten Tony Awards, and it won four: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in A Musical (Alan Cumming), Best Actress in a Musical (Natasha Richardson) and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Ron Rifkin).
30. Actresses who played Sally on Broadway include: Penny Fuller, Tandy Cronyn, Anita Gillette, Melissa Hart, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Susan Egan, Joely Fisher, Gina Gershon, Deborah Gibson, Teri Hatcher, Melina Kanakaredes, Jane Leeves, Molly Ringwald, Brooke Shields, Lea Thompson, and Emma Stone.
31. Actors who played the Emcee on Broadway include: Michael C. Hall, Raúl Esparza, Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Pascal, Jon Secada, Norbert Leo Butz, and John Stamos
32. As of this writing, the 1998 revival of CABARET is tied for 25th place (with ANNIE) in the list of longest-running Broadway shows.
33. CABARET’s fourth Broadway production opened on April 24, 2014, starring Alan Cumming as the Emcee and Michelle Williams – making her Broadway debut – as Sally Bowles. Danny Burstein and Linda Emond costarred as Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider.
34. CABARET broke new ground in many ways: the show’s subject matter (including anti-Semitism, hedonism, and abortion) was unprecedented in Broadway musicals, and the structure departed boldly from musical theatre orthodoxy.
35. Sally Bowles famously paints her nails green. Her explanation: “If anyone should ask me why, I’d say I think it’s pretty.”
37. Liza and Joel nailed it in Bob Fosse’s brilliant staging of this number:
38. The film earned a total of eight Academy Awards: Best Director (Bob Fosse), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Liza Minnelli), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Joel Grey), Best Cinematography (Geoffrey Unsworth), Best Film Editing (David Bretherton), Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score (Ralph Burns), Best Art Direction (Rolf Zehetbauer, Hans Jürgen Kiebach, Herbert Strabel), and Best Sound (Robert Knudson, David Hildyard).
39. Despite these wins, CABARET did not win Best Picture or Best Screenplay; those honors went to THE GODFATHER.
40. CABARET therefore holds the record for most Academy Awards won by a film that did not win Best Picture.
41. Joel Grey is one of only eight actors who have won a Tony and Oscar for playing the same role. The others are: José Ferrer (CYRANO DE BERGERAC), Shirley Booth (COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA), Yul Brynner (THE KING AND I), Rex Harrison (MY FAIR LADY), Anne Bancroft (THE MIRACLE WORKER), Paul Scofield (A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS), and Jack Albertson (THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES). Lila Kedrova won her Oscar first: She won in 1964 for the film Zorba the Greek, and 20 years later won a Tony for the same role in a revival of ZORBA! on Broadway.
42. Bob Fosse had a great year in 1973: he won two Tony Awards for directing and choreographing PIPPIN, an Academy Award for directing CABARET, and a Primetime Emmy Award for directing LIZA WITH A “Z.” He remains the only director to win all three awards in a single year.
44. To maintain a sense of realism, the film of CABARET includes only diegetic songs. That is, all the songs are sung by characters who acknowledge that they are singing. Thus, songs like “Why Should I Wake Up?” and “It Couldn’t Please Me More (The Pineapple Song),” in which the characters sing as if they were speaking, were cut.
45. The film version of CABARET, rated “PG” in the US, was originally given an “X” rating in the UK. It was later softened to a “15.”
46. Because CABARET has been so heavily revised over the last 50 years, there is no single definitive version of the piece; the original Broadway production, the 1987 revival, and the 1998 revival versions of the book and score are all currently available for licensing.
48. Lyricist Fred Ebb said of CABARET, “It’s about people dancing on the edge of a cliff and not quite falling over.”
49. Walter Kerr of The New York Times wrote in 1966, “[A]nything we learn of life during the evening is going to be learned through the tipsy, tinkling, angular vision of sleek rouged-up clowns, who inhabit a world that rains silver. This marionette’s eye view of a time and place in our lives that was brassy, wanton, carefree and doomed to crumble is brilliantly conceived.”
50. Come hear the music play…
Happy 50th Birthday, CABARET!