From "Goodbye to Berlin" to I Am a Camera, A History of Cabaret's Journey to the Stage

By Robert Simonson
11 Apr 2014

John Kander
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

One of the doubters was Masteroff himself. "When we wrote the show, we thought we were taking an enormous chance," the librettist told "The best we could hope for would be good reviews. Now, that it's so long since the Holocaust, it's difficult to think that when Cabaret was first done in 1966, the Holocaust was only 20 years old, so everyone knew about it.

"[The show] has so many things against it," Masteroff continued. "In those days, homosexuality could not be discussed on stage in any way. And then there's a girl who doesn't lead a very noble life and has an abortion. And a story that doesn't end happily for everyone in the cast. It's not the sort of thing that Broadway musicals were made of back in 1966."

The trio devised a structure in which the songs were divided between traditionally delivered musical comedy numbers and presentational songs that were offered in the cabaret of the title, the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin. The latter often slyly commented on the the toxic political culture surrounding the characters.

The composer and the librettist worked separately, feeding each other material when they had finished a song or a scene. "We didn't work in the same room," said Masteroff. "Composers and lyricists have their own world. We bookwriters just sit home alone and send our work out into the world."

The first song off Kander's piano was Cabaret's famous opener, "Wilkommen." "Fred and I, throughout most of our career, wrote the first thing first," explained Kander. "In the music — even so simple-minded as that opening vamp is — in the music at the beginning of any show there's an element which informs what the rest of the show's going to be."

According to Masteroff, one of the things that changed about the show was the title. "It was originally called Welcome to Berlin," he said, "and many of the women's theatre groups, which were usually most Jewish, said they could never get their groups to go to a show called Welcome to Berlin. So we came up with the name Cabaret."

Prince surrounded the musical with a more dark-hued production that Broadway audiences were then accustomed. (This was the era of Hello, Dolly!) A large mirror, instead of a curtain, faced the audience when they entered the theatre. Joel Grey, as the macabre sybaritic Master of Ceremonies, was androgynous and made up in ghoulish white makeup. The cast also included Jill Haworth as Sally; Bert Convy as Cliff, an American writer who teaches English and has an affair with Sally; the Brecht veteran Lotte Lenya as Fräulein Schneider; Jack Gilford as Herr Schultz, Schneider's Jewish beau; Edward Winter as the Nazi Ernst; and Peg Murray as the prostitute Fraulein Kost.