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A Film by Michael Kantor



Joel Grey

When Joel Grey stepped into stardom, “wilkomming” wary customers to the Kit Kat Klub at the beginning of “Cabaret”‘s Boston tryout, even his own mother wouldn’t have recognized him:

Out I came in this very extreme pink pancake — the name of the greasepaint actually was “juvenile pink.” And with these very heavy eyelashes, patent-leather hair slicked back, and Clara Bow bee-stung, blood-red lips and some rouge. And a tuxedo and a pink bow tie. I don’t think anybody had ever seen that before.

Joel Grey

Born: April 11, 1932
Key Shows
  • Cabaret"
  • "Chicago"
  • "George M!"
  • "Goodtime Charley"
  • "The Grand Tour"
  • "Wicked"
Related Artists
  • Boris Aronson
  • Kander and Ebb
  • Bernadette Peters
  • Harold Prince
  • Ann Reinking
  • Gwen Verdon
  • Tony Walton
Thirty-four years old when he appeared as the MC, Grey had toiled in show business since the age of ten. Born Joel Katz in 1932, he grew up in Cleveland, the son of a successful nightclub entertainer and clarinetist, and eventually made it to Broadway as a replacement for such stars as Anthony Newley and Tommy Steele. When Harold Prince picked him to host his “Cabaret,” Grey was so comparatively little known that he was billed fifth, along with the supporting cast. But his dazzling, creepy, utterly unpredictable performance won him a Tony Award and gave the world a Broadway icon. He followed his triumph with his first starring role, as George M. Cohan in the musical biography “George M.!” (1968), where his singing, dancing, and acting talents could be fully exploited. Hollywood beckoned, with a reprise of his role in the film of CABARET, which won him an Oscar.

Grey had toiled in show business since the age of ten.

In the 1970s, he returned to Broadway to star in two more shows, both at the Palace Theatre: “Goodtime Charley,” in which he played the Dauphin of France, and “The Grand Tour,” where he gave his most poignant performance, as a Polish Jew trying to keep one step ahead of the Nazis. Neither show ran for very long, but Grey received Tony nominations for both. He returned once more as MC — this time with his name above the title — in a 1987 revival of “Cabaret,” and performed the self-effacing showstopper “Mr. Cellophane” as the cuckolded husband in the revival of “Chicago” in 1996. In 2003, he appeared as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in “Wicked,” making his transition from song-and-dance juvenile to beloved character actor complete. “For me to take a role, I read a script and I think wow, I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I want to try,” said Grey. “That’s where I go.” In “The Grand Tour,” Grey’s big number was called “I’ll Be Here Tomorrow,” a sentiment that seems pretty accurate.

Source: Excerpted from BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon. Published by Bulfinch Press.

Photo credits: Photofest