NEW YORK – Joe Masteroff, author of the Tony Award-winning story of the brilliant and avant-garde musical “Cabaret” and the touching and romantic “She Loves Me”, has passed away. He was 98 years old.
Masteroff died at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey on Friday, said The Roundabout Theater Company, which recently produced covers of its most beloved shows.
âToday we deeply mourn the loss of our friend Joe Masteroff, one of the 20th century masters of Great American Musical. His âShe Loves Meâ and âCabaretâ helped shape our theater, and we were honored to bring them both to Broadway, âsaid Todd Haimes, Artistic Director and CEO of The Roundabout Theater Company.
âJoe was a close collaborator, a legendary spirit and a dear friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family. “
Masteroff was never prolific but left a deep mark on the theater with two shows seemingly at opposite ends of the spectrum – one considered by many to be the most charming musical ever written and the other a fiercely dark musical starring Nazis. disturbing.
âI had a limited career, but it went well,â he told The Associated Press in an interview in 2015 as another national âCabaretâ tour began.
The Philadelphia-born Masteroff hoped in his youth to write plays and after serving in World War II he took a drama writing course. He hadn’t had much success until his 1959 comedy “The Warm Peninsula” hit Broadway starring Julie Harris.
âOne day my agent called and said, ‘Joe, I have great news. Julie Harris wants to perform your play. I said,’ What play? ‘ He told me and said, ‘Not only that, she wants to tour for a year across the United States and then bring her to New York.’ That day my life changed.
The show only managed 86 performances on Broadway but noted Masteroff. She was asked to write the book for “She Loves Me” with songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. It was produced by the legendary Hal Prince.
âShe Loves Me,â a case of mistaken identity set in a 1930s European perfumery, was nominated for five Tonys in 1964, and the 1993 Broadway revival won the Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival.
A 2016 Tony-nominated revival on Broadway starred Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski and Zachary Levi. The story was adapted in the films “The Shop Around the Corner” with James Stewart and “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks.
It was Prince who then asked him to write the libretto for a musical that looked at a slice of sordid life in Germany just before the Nazi takeover. Masteroff compressed “Berlin Stories” by Christopher Isherwood and John van Druten’s play “I Am a Camera”. The songs were provided by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb.
The show takes place in 1920s Berlin, where a shady nightclub becomes a metaphor for a world that is slowly going mad and drifting towards world war. The musical was first called “Welcome to Berlin”, a name that was dropped after Masteroff suggested “Cabaret”.
In the show, the cabaret acts are interspersed with two love stories – one between free-spirited Sally Bowles and an American writer named Cliff Bradshaw and a second between a German landlord and her Jewish tenant.
It made its Boston debut in 1966 and caused a stir – audiences were not used to seeing shows that mixed call girl and Nazi characters, lasciviousness, alcoholism and abortions.
âI always thought this show was very uncertain. We had done so many things that no one in their right mind would have done. That it worked was a pleasant surprise, âMasteroff said in 2015.
âDuring the first few performances – maybe the first three or four days – people kept going out. In numbers. And the reason, of course, was that they went to see a musical called ‘Cabaret’ and there was something wrong with that show. Some people were very disappointed. Once the reviews were posted, it was over.
The original production – starring Jill Haworth as Sally, Bert Convy as Clifford, and Joel Gray as Master of Ceremonies – was one of the most influential musicals of the 1960s. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1967.
It was one of the first so-called âconceptualâ musicals, in which books, music, lyrics, sets, costumes and lighting worked together to convey the idea of ââthe show. A 1972 film version was directed by Bob Fosse and starred Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Gray.
A Broadway cover of “Cabaret” by director Sam Mendes and choreographer Rob Marshall with Alan Cumming won the Tony Best Coverage award in 1998 and it was revived again in 2014 with Cumming on board and actresses including Michelle Williams , Emma Stone and Sienna Miller playing Sally.
âShe Loves Youâ and âCabaretâ have both made numerous appearances on Broadway and in the area over the years. Masteroff helped write only one other adaptation to make it to Broadway – â70, Girls, 70â in 1971, which only lasted 35 performances – but his career was set.
âI wrote a few shows after that, but mostly for my own amusement,â he said. âI haven’t had a great career, you might say. I am not that anxious. If I’m okay, I’ll settle for that.
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer