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Tony Award Winning Jewish Writer of Musical “Cabaret” Dies at 98 in NJ

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The Roundabout Theatre Company announced last week that Joe Masteroff who won a Tony Award for the winning story of the dark musical “Cabaret” has died at the age of 98.

Masteroff passed away at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey.

Masteroff was born in Philadelphia, PA on December 11, 1919 and studied at Temple University. He was born to Louis Masteroff from Korsun Russian and Rose Pogost from Kishinev, Russian.

He is also credited with writing the book for the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Brock musical “She Loves Me” which earned Masteroff a Tony Award nomination for Best Author of a Musical.

“We deeply mourn the loss of our friend Joe Masteroff, one of the 20th century’s masters of the Great American Musical. His “She Loves Me’ and ‘Cabaret’ helped shape our theater, and we were honored to present them both on Broadway,” said CEO of the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Masteroff was not known for producing many plays or books but the ones he did produce had a lasting effect. “She Loves Me,” a light hearted musical, which had a revival back in 2016 starring 30 Rock actress Jane Krakowski. While “She Loves Me” is light hearted, it is completely the opposite of the dark sleazy underworld setting of Cabaret which takes place in 1931 as the Nazis are rising to power.

As a youth, Masteroff aspired to write plays and during World War II, he took a course to see if he could do it. In 1959 he wrote “The Warm Peninsula,” which made it to Broadway starring Julie Harris.

Masteroff recalled after hearing the news that when Harris wanted to do his play and go on tour, that “my life changed.”

Masteroff was getting a noticed even though the show only had 86 performances.

From there, he was asked to write the book for “She Loves Me” and that writers Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick would compose songs. Legendary producer Hal Prince was to call the shots as producer. “She Loves Me” was a story about a clerk who worked in a perfume shop in 1903 Budapest who is romancing a woman by correspondence. By coincidence she comes to work in the store, although they don’t recognize the other. At first, they are constantly fighting and disagreeing over things, Eventually they recognize who each other are and they fall in love. The movie, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, “You’ve Got Mail,” is based on “She Loves Me.”

The next story Masteroff would compose could be called She Loves Me its polar opposite. “Cabaret,” originally titled “Welcome to Berlin,” would call on the talents of John Kander and Fred Ebb (who would later do “Chicago,”) to compose the music and song for the production.

Masteroff had a great deal of reluctance about Cabaret calling it “very iffy.”

“We had done so many things that nobody in their right mind would have done,” Masteroff related. Cabaret’s success “was a pleasant surprise.”

The show’s cabaret numbers are interspersed with two love stories, one with a young couple and one with an older couple. The younger couple is between a free spirited Sally Bowles and an American writer named Cliff Bradshaw and the other between a German land landy and her Jewish tenant, a fruit vendor.

Cabaret, original idea was inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” along with John van Druten stage adaptation, I Am a Camera, ran for well over one thousand performances and ultimately was adapted for film in 1972 starring Joel Grey and Liza Minelli. In total, “Cabaret” won eight Tonys, including for best musical.

While other musicals have faded, “Cabaret’s popularity has only gotten stronger. A 1998 production of the musical ran for over two thousand performances and a touring London production of Cabaret was reviewed by The Las Vegas Review-Journal which called the play “timeless.”

By: Anton Gomez

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