Last night was the NYC premiere of the Cabaret 40th Anniversary Restoration (on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. February 5, $27.98) at the Ziegfeld, the same theater that hosted the landmark musical's 1972 premiere.
I arrived at 5 to cover the carpet, shocked to discover it was quite small, but also to find that the tented-in area was wide open down at the end where I was positioned. It was freezing! Commiserating with my fellow non-A-list outlets helped somewhat, but I've never been so thrilled to see Nicole Fosse—Bob and Gwen Verdon's daughter—when she arrived, not only because she remembered me from the press day ("I know you!") but also because that meant we were down to the last hour before the film began and I could thaw out.
Though some did photos on the carpet (Tony Danza, Arlene Dahl, Bernadette Peters), none of the actors who attended but who were not a part of the film did press. That should've made things more manageable, but the extreme cold (and wind, don't forget the wind) actually kept me from getting anything from either Marisa Berenson or Michael York. I'd just chatted with them at the press day, but still, it would've helped justify being freeze-dried to get a question with them.
Missing York was especially annoying because a previously friendly Warner Bros. technician ushered him away from us when it would have been perfectly easy for him to do one question—he'd been so gracious and patient doing multiple questions for everyone else.
The same nice guy had earlier told us he had gotten us special approval to step out onto the carpet and shoot the length of it when Liza arrived. It wasn't my first carpet and I was well aware of what I could have gotten away with, thanks!)
But enough kvetching because I did snag Joel Grey briefly—I asked him if any movie musical since Cabaret was in its league and he snapped, "No," smiling impishly, then walked away. And the best was yet to come—thanks to her doll of a publicist, Liza herself stopped for one question:
Liza was a beneficent spirit in the tent but seemed reticent. It may have been that she was touched that the film was generating so much interest again after so many years. I actually followed her in, but then she disappeared for a later grand entrance.
Inside, I spotted Charles Busch, Alan Cumming, Bernadette Peters (still looking 39) and Parker Posey (seated dead center and impossible to get to—I really wanted to get a picture with her!). I also had an anti-celebrity sighting when the heinous "journalist" Roger Friedman hovered in conversation nearby.
More interestingly, '40s/'50s screen beauty/McCarthyite Arlene Dahl, a friend of Liza's, was in the house. I approached her and asked if I could take her picture. The ravishingly red-headed 87-year-old said yes and I got one of my favorite celebrity photos yet, mainly because of the sign:
José had grabbed seats for us in the second row, which gave us a flawless view of the Q&A and also put us directly behind where the cast (minus Liza) sat before being called to the stage. But Liza was first. After brief introductory remarks, Robert Osborne said, "Here's Liza!" and she was escorted from the back of the theater to the stage as a thundering standing O played out.
The Q&A, which later included Joel and then Berenson and York, was very entertaining. Liza lost her train of thought once but delivered huge laughs remembering Fosse's outlandish direction to her and Grey for "The Money Song"—he allegedly told Grey to imagine he had a huge dick ("Like they have in parts of Africa," Liza offered) and told Minnelli to think of her tits the same way. Grey said Liza was fantasizing this, but it sure sounded like an honest memory and makes sense if you watch the scene.
But the funniest moment was when Osborne asked if it was hard to believe it's been over 40 years since the film came out and Liza said no.
Grey was able to chip in a warm story about his neighbor Larry Hagman creating a consolation prize for him just in case he came home empty-handed on Oscar night in 1973—he didn't.
Overall, it was just a thrill to be in their presence, even if for only 30 minutes or so.
Confession time: I know, I know—but I'd never seen Cabaret. I can't explain why. I'm a film buff, am not averse to musicals and am gay, yet I had not ever seen it. I couldn't help wondering how it would have affected me had I seen it decades ago, but even now, it's incredibly modern and edgy. The WB technician who screwed me over on the carpet had helpfully told me that Fosse, a film newbie then, had been forcing his film to accept substandard lighting while filming on the fly in Berlin, so that explained even the restored print's ultra-grainy quality. The graininess works artistically, making even the blacks saturated with color.
It's a disturbing movie but ultimately about life's highs even on the road to its lows—the Nazis are the Nazis but they (and the "Master of Ceremonies") also stand in for the dark side of human nature, and of change. Death is one kind of change, and so is the cessation of the kind of carefree fun had in the early '30s by "Sally Bowles," her friends and her partners. In that regard, seeing it in the same room with its star, whose own devil-may-care youth is behind her was especially poignant.
More so than the movie itself, Liza really blew me away. I am a latecomer to the Liza party, having seen her perform live for the first time just a few years back and only now getting around to seeing her most famous artistic statement, but—I get it. She is a singular sensation as Sally, and the meticulously restored Cabaret is a must-see.