BROADWAY RECALL: Shades of (Joel) Grey in 2011

BROADWAY RECALL: Shades of (Joel) Grey in 2011Welcome to BROADWAY RECALL, a bi-monthly column where's Chief Theatre Critic, Michael Dale, delves into the archives and explores the stories behind the well-known and the not so well-known videos and photographs of Broadway's past. Look for BROADWAY RECALL every other Saturday.

80th birthdays seem to be in fashion among Broadway’s elite these days.  In 2010 we all honored Stephen Sondheim’s achievement of octogenarianship and this past year was a celebration of the eight decades of Jerry HermanJoel Grey turns 80 on April 11th, but here in New York it seemed like there were shades of Grey all over the city throughout 2011.

Just recently, after the Actors Fund performance of Anything Goes, Grey delighted the crowd with a little morsel of “Willkommen,” going back 45 years to the role he’s most famous for.




But while Cabaret introduced Joel Grey to Broadway as a great song and dance man – an image that would be solidified when he took to the Palace Theatre stage to play the legendary George M. Cohan in George M! – the actor never wanted to restrict himself to just doing musicals.  His Off-Broadway credits include the premiere of John Guare’s Marco Polo Sings A Solo and, most notably, as a replacement for the ailing Brad Davis playing Ned Weeks in the original Public Theater production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart.  When a 2010 staged reading of the play that Grey directed in both Los Angeles and New York was picked up for Broadway this year, he was already set to start previews of Anything Goes, so George C. Wolfe was called on to take over the day-to-day directing of the production and the two of them earned a Tony nomination for their co-directed effort.  In this video, Grey talks about the experience of playing activist Ned Weeks when the play was new and the public’s understanding of AIDS was limited.


Although he’s done a good deal of film and television work throughout his career, Joel Grey has always carried the public image of being a Broadway star and a quintessential New Yorker.  So it was highly appropriate that this year the Museum of the City of New York honor him with an exhibition called Joel Grey/A New York Life, which not only documented his theatre career, but also displayed his photographs of everyday life in the city.


Grey’s father was the popular Yiddish comedian/musician Mickey Katz, who inspired the likes of Allan Sherman and "Weird Al" Yankovic with his parody songs.


It was Katz’s popularity that helped young Joel to catch the attention of entertainment legend Eddie Cantor, who helped him get his first television appearance in 1954.


Curtain Going Up never made it to Broadway, but it wasn’t long until Joel Grey was the toast of it.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.

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