Chalk up another amazing evening of entertainment coming to the Huntington Cinema Arts this Thursday night, when legendary Joel Grey hosts a rare “big screen” presentation of Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, the scintillatingly original musical drama about decadence in 1931 Berlin as the Weimar Republic was about to be swept away forever by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.
The movie, which premiered in 1972, earned Grey an Oscar for his role as the leering, sneering Emcee of the seedy Kit Kat Club, where the vulnerable performer, Sally Bowles, was played by Liza Minnelli—Judy Garland’s daughter—who won an Oscar, too. The film, based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, earned eight Oscars in total. When it came out on screen, Bob Fosse was already a leading American choreographer, dancer and director, who’d later go on to create “All That Jazz” (1979) and “Chicago” (2002). But nothing ever quite equaled the groundbreaking Cabaret, the movie version of the John Kander and Fred Ebb Broadway musical, where Grey had first created his role of the Emcee on stage in 1966.
As the New York Times reviewer Roger Greenspun wrote in 1972, the film is “not so much a movie musical as it is a movie with a lot of music in it.” He remarked that it had a “general theme of sick sexual ambiguity…as a kind of working motif. The master of sexual ambiguity, and the master of motifs, is again Joel Grey, master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub, the cellar cabaret where Sally sings and dances, and where everything, even the rise of the Third Reich, is ‘beautiful.’”
“An appearance by Tony and Academy Award-winner Joel Grey—at the Cinema Arts Centre or anywhere else—is a major event,” said Dr. Jud Newborn, the Cinema Arts Centers’ special program curator. “This man is a legend, and a unique one at that. But ours is an exclusive for Long Island! And the timing is especially potent for our rare ‘big screen’ showing of Cabaret because the film, with the rise of Nazism as its backdrop, resonates with the crisis of democracy that is roiling America today. We all can’t wait to hear Joel Grey’s ideas on this connection.
“But, of course, the sheer entertainment value of this Oscar-sweeping film, no matter what your politics, cannot be exceeded,” said Newborn. “After all, Joel Grey is on all lists as among the most important Broadway stars of all time.”
He’s an Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe winner.
Grey has just published his new tell-all memoir, Master of Ceremonies, and he’ll be on hand to discuss that as well.
“Grey reveals the risks and excitement of his bisexual life while giving us an amazing inside history of theater from the Vaudeville era to today,” said Newborn. “And think of what he can tell us about Liza Minnelli, his co-star and friend, and so many other celebrated artists!”
A singer, dancer, producer, director and photographer, Grey has lived a fascinating life on and off screen, in the limelight, and in the shadows. In his memoir he reportedly recounts his “fraught but exuberant bisexual love life at a time when any sexual ambiguity was both difficult and dangerous.” From his childhood in Vaudeville acting with his father to performing in gangster-filled nightclubs and basking in the glamour of Hollywood, Grey is a living legend who’s seen it all—and probably done it, too.
As the Emcee would say, “Life is a cabaret, my friends.”
For more information, visit Cinema Arts Centre’s website.
Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as the Emcee in “Cabaret.” [Photo courtesy Cinema Arts Centre]