Tony-Winning Librettist Joseph Masteroff Passes Away at 98
BroadwayWorld is saddened to report that Joseph Masteroff, the Tony-winning librettist of the international musical classics, Cabaret and She Loves Me, died on September 28th 2018 at the Actors Fund Home in Engelwood, New Jersey. He was 98 years old.
Howard Marren, a friend and his literary executor, confirmed the death.
A modest, self-deprecating man, Masteroff attributed much of his success to luck. But his peers, including such demanding artists as producer-director Harold Prince, always held him in the highest regard as an artist and collaborator and credited him with the success of both She Loves Me and Cabaret. It is arguable that not a day goes by without Cabaret being produced somewhere in the world. And both this landmark musical and the perennially charming She Love Me are at the top of the lists when theater aficionados debate what constitutes "the perfect musical."
Masteroff's involvement in 1963's She Loves Me came as a result of his Broadway debut in 1959 with the drama The Warm Peninsula. It starried Julie Harris as a shy young woman emotionally abused by a handsome roué, played by Farley Granger. Larry Hagman and June Havoc were also in the cast. Producer-director Harold Prince saw it and chose Masteroff to adapt a musical based on an Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo. With music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and direction by Prince, She Loves Me opened to rave reviews and earned five Tony nominations, including Best Musical. It has since enjoyed acclaimed Broadway revivals in 1993 and 2016.
In 1966, Prince again tapped Masteroff, this time to adapt John Van Druten's I Am Camera which became Cabaret with songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. It was a ground-breaking and daring enterprise. Set in 1929 Weimar Germany, the musical centered on the star-crossed romance between Cliff, a young American writer, and Sally Bowles, a "divinely decadent" chanteuse. The musical brazenly dealt with such provocative subjects as anti-semitism, abortion, bisexuality, and the rise of Nazism. Cabaret opened to unanimous critical praise and earned eleven Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including Best Musical. Three major Broadway revivals-in 1987, 1998, and 2014-followed its initial long run.
Masteroff was born on December 11th, 1919, in Philadelphia, to Louis and Rose Masteroff who owned a notions store while their only son cultivated through movies and theater a sole ambition: to be on Broadway. He graduated with an English degree from Temple University, and, during World War II, served in the United States Army.
As a veteran, he qualified for free classes at the American Theatre Wing's Professional School, where he studied playwriting under the tutelage of Robert Anderson (Tea and Sympathy). A few years later, he achieved his dream by writing The Warm Peninsula in which Julie Harris toured nationally for a year prior to Broadway. Harris led a roster of actors in Masteroff's plays which would grow to include, for Cabaret, Lotte Lenya, Regina Resnick, Natasha Richardson, Emma Stone, Michelle Williams, Siena Miller, Gregg Edelman, Ron Rifkin, Joel Grey, Peg Murray, and Alan Cumming; and, for She Loves Me, Barbara Cook, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Jack Cassidy, Daniel Massey, Boyd Gaines, and Zachary Levi. Many of them won Tony Awards for their performances including Cassidy, Gaines, Murray, Grey, Rifkin, Richardson and Cumming. After Masteroff was brought in to "doctor" Jerry Herman's Dear World in 1969, Angela Lansbury won a Tony as well.
Masteroff's other musicals include 70, Girls 70, another Kander-Ebb collaboration which reached Broadway in 1971, as well as two with composer Howard Marren: Georgia Avenue and Paramour; and three with composer Edward Thomas: Desire Under the Elms, Six Wives and Anna Christie.
Masteroff is survived by his niece, Judith Weiner of Boca Raton, Florida.