While it’s easy to assume now that the Feb. 13, 1972, release of Cabaret would draw audiences to come hear the music play, the film’s success was hardly assured at the time.

The big-screen version of the Kander & Ebb musical, set during the rise of Nazism, tackled relevant topics like anti-Semitism, abortion and sexual identity en route to eight Oscars — including one for best actress for Liza Minnelli as Berlin nightclub performer Sally Bowles. But it was only director Bob Fosse’s second feature following 1969’s underperforming Sweet Charity, and its initial screenplay needed work.

Indeed, Michael York’s agent warned him against playing the initially uptight writer Brian Roberts because the role seemed underdeveloped. “She said, ‘It’s a leading role for Liza, and the other roles are not very well-defined,’” York tells The Hollywood Reporter. His character, based on author Christopher Isherwood from his semiautobiographical 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin, had at first been envisioned as a mere observer of the surrounding chaos of 1930s Berlin. To his credit, Fosse encouraged York to spend a week with Minnelli and writer Hugh Wheeler to improvise together and flesh out the part. Says York, “It turned into a real character.”

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Minnelli, who praises Fosse as “totally an original,” recalls that her scoliosis made it difficult to nail the choreography for the standout “Mein Herr” chair number, but the director came to the rescue. “I was not getting it, and Bob figured out how to make it all work,” she says. “He knew how to take my natural body movements and turn them into signature moves for me.”

Cabaret’s impact is not lost on Eddie Redmayne, now playing the Emcee on the London stage; he says that Joel Grey, who originated the role in the movie and won the supporting actor Oscar, surprised him by sending an elaborate bouquet of flowers on opening night. “I didn’t rewatch it in the past few years since we’ve been putting together our production because I felt I needed to approach it with an unfiltered take, and those performances are so indelible,” explains Redmayne, who first saw the film in his teens. “But I rewatched it again the other night, and it’s so extraordinary to see, and it’s a stunning and searing piece of work.”

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Cabaret The Hollywood Reporter

The cast’s onscreen connection extended to real life, as York and Minnelli continue to exchange Christmas cards. “We hit it off wonderfully and were partners for each other,” York says. “And she used to come in on her days off to do [offscreen] lines in character, which is not totally normal. Sometimes the script supervisor reads the offscreen lines. But Liza performed them, and it made a subtle difference.”

York fondly recalls the final scene they filmed, in which Sally convinces Brian to cathartically scream at a passing train. “In a way, that last shot and that cry was one of triumph, of relief,” he says. “‘Look, we’ve got through it, and we’re still here. We still love each other.’”

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Source: Hollywood

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