Liza Minnelli, who won an Oscar for playing the screwball gamine Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” was back in the spotlight Thursday, Jan. 31 for the movie’s anniversary celebration at the Ziegfeld Theater, where the film had its original premiere in 1972.
Joel Grey, Michael York and Marisa Berenson, her trio of “Cabaret” co-stars, joined her on the red carpet where they shared their own memories of making the musical.
The landmark movie dealt with Nazis, homosexuality and anti-Semitism. It won six Oscars, including a directing award for Bob Fosse, who bested Francis Ford Coppola, who had the little known film, “The Godfather.”
The original “Cabaret” film print hadn’t been shown in a decade because one of the film’s original reels was damaged with a vertical scratch. The movie has now been restored, and the sound and resolution enhanced. The “Cabaret: 40th Anniversary” blu-ray, book and DVD will come out Feb. 5, 2013.
To celebrate, Warner Home Video and Turner Classic Movies hosted the free screening. Fans lined up in the cold, and there wasn’t space for some 300 or 400 of them. Inside the theater, some fanboys were dressed in drag or like a character from the film. I saw at least a dozen guys decked out in suspenders and cropped pants to look like the androgynous M.C. played by Grey.
For those who got inside, the long wait in the cold was worth it. The restored print is luscious and rich. John Kander and Fred Ebb’s songs, and the Kit Kat Club cabaret production numbers still mesmerize. Minnelli (visit her online at OfficialLizaMinnelli.com) looks and sounds ravishing. Beneath the exotic, glamour-girl exterior, the green fingernail polish she keeps flashing, and the booze she keeps downing, Minnelli’s Sally is childlike and wounded and it’s all in those kewpie-doll eyes. It’s a performance that still grabs and holds you.
York, who is now 70 and very physically changed, is charming and devoted to his co-stars and happy to recount memories of making the film. He wore big colored glasses. In “Cabaret,” he plays a reserved English writer, a bi-sexual, who gets entwined with Sally and her lover a German baron.
When I mentioned to York that it was considered avant-garde back then, he laughed, “It still is avant-garde, but this pushed the envelope 40 years ago.”
I asked York what it was like to revisit the movie after so many years. “It feels very good because 40 years is an awful long time, but it’s looking better than ever with this new print.”
Did he hesitate when he was first offered the role? “Not for a moment. It was a privilege. I was lucky to be able to do this,” York said. As for working with Fosse, “He was a genius, and when you work with a genius, you feel it.”
Grey, who is 80, still looks elfin and recognizable. How did it feel to be part of something as groundbreaking as “Cabaret”? “It makes me happy that I’m part of something that matters to people on a number of notes. It’s a responsibility and a joy.”
“It feels like yesterday,” Grey said about the four decades since the movie first had its premiere. The character of the M.C. he created is a role he owned since he won the best supporting Oscar in 1973. (Alan Cumming reprised the role on Broadway in 1998.)
I asked Grey if he had complete freedom in creating the M.C. “I guess sort of. It was definitely a collaboration between (producer) Hal Prince first and then Bob Fosse and myself.”
As for what Grey drew on for the character, “I don’t know,” he said. “It came out of my dreams, I guess. My bad dreams.” Later in the Q&A, he noted that Fosse called him “Mr. Porno.”
Marisa Berenson, an astonishing 66, looks sensational. Her hair is shiny and long, and time seems to have stopped for her.
Liza, also 66, is also still game about promoting the film. On the red carpet, someone asked what she thought of movie musicals Hollywood was making now. ”I’m just glad they’re making them,” she said.
And what did she think of “Les Miserable”? “I didn’t see ‘Les Miz,’” she said. “You know I just got back from a tour.” It was a great way to avoid the question that every other person on the red carpet asked her.
She reflected on the hardest part about playing Sally Bowles. “Nothing,” she said. “I knew her. I was directed brilliantly. I loved doing it. And it was so differently done.”
When I asked what it was like to see the film celebrated tonight, she sighed, “Oh it’s wonderful! I wish Fosse were here! You know, it’s all about him.”
I asked her about filming “Smash,” but she would only say that she sings on the show and she had a good time shooting it.
Before she dashed into the theater, Minnelli, who was dressed in a big fur poncho, responded to a remark by a reporter who said the cast seemed to get along so well. “We had such a good time. We were so isolated. They didn’t know what to do with us. Nazi musical. Send them to Germany,” she laughed. “And they did it, and it worked.”
Before a Q&A with the “Cabaret” cast, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne introduced the starry guests in the audience, who included Arlene Dahl, Bernadette Peters, Alan Cumming and Phyllis Newman.
There’s only one Liza, and she knows how to make an entrance. When Osborne introduced her, the audience gave her a standing ovation as she swanned onto the stage. Someone from the audience screamed, “I love you, Liza!” She purred back, “I love you too baby!”