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“Today I get very antsy watching musicals in which people are singing as they walk down the street or hang out the laundry,” said Director Bob Fosse.
When he approached Cabaret, he did so through the lens of realism. The film drew from Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories and its two theater adaptions, including the Broadway musical. Songs that took place outside the Kit Kat Club (except for one) were cut and the focus of the piece turned to its charismatic star and her drive for fame.
The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven, including Oscars for Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, and Fosse.
1. Liza Minnelli auditioned for the musical.
In fact, she auditioned 14 times. However, the role went to Jill Hayworth when it opened in 1966. Minnelli loved the role though, and incorporated the song “Cabaret” into her night club act. Five years later, she was cast in the film. Of course, that was after Barbra Streisand turned down the part. Shirley MacLaine was also considered since she had worked with Director Bob Fosse on Sweet Charity.
2. Bob Fosse wasn’t the first pick.
In 1969, the film rights were purchased for $1.5 million, but finding a director proved hard. Billy Wilder and Gene Kelly turned down the job, fearing an adaption of the musical wouldn’t translate to the screen. Despite the box office failure of Sweet Charity, Bob Fosse fought for the job and was eventually hired for $125,000 for directing and $50,000 for choreography.
3. Joel Grey was the only original Broadway member.
Grey won a Tony for his performance as the Master of Ceremonies in the Broadway show. However, he struggled to translate his part onto film, as Fosse believed his performance was, at first, too theatrical. Grey worked with a dialogue coach to hone his Berlin accent. One of his ad-libs (making a Hitler mustache on himself with mud after the wrestling match) even made it into the film – which was rare, as Fosse preferred to stick to the script.
4. Gwen Verdon came to the rescue.
Verdon and Fosse had worked on multiple projects together and were married at the time. Fosse requested her help, and she flew to Berlin. Verdon also helped Minnelli pick out her costumes and by some accounts, helped pick out her bob haircut. Michael York recalled, “Gwen came and literally went to the junk shops and we all ended up with improvised things.” When Fosse needed a gorilla costume, Verdon flew back to the States, got one, and flew back with the Gorilla mask in her lap.
5. Michael York was perfect for the part.
But he almost didn't get it. The producers were looking for a "Michael York type" but never approached the actor himself. So he reached out to his agent to get an audition for the role and won it. John Rubinstein was also considered for the part.