Joe Masteroff Dies: ‘Cabaret’, ‘She Loves Me’ Librettist Was 98

Courtesy Polk & Co

Joe Masteroff, the librettist for two of Broadway’s most beloved musicals – Cabaret and She Loves Me – died today at the Actors Fund Home in Engelwood, New Jersey. He was 98 years old.

His death was confirmed by Howard Marren, a friend and his literary executor.

Born in Philadelphia to the owners of a notions store, Masteroff served in the Army during World War II, so thereafter qualified for free classes at the American Theatre Wing’s Professional School. He studied playwriting under the tutelage of Tea and Sympathy author Robert Anderson, and several years later his own play The Warm Peninsula starring Julie Harris toured nationally before arriving on Broadway.

“She Loves Me”, 2016 Joan Marcus

Harold Prince saw The Warm Peninsula and hired Masteroff to adapt a musical based on an Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo, which became 1963’s She Loves Me, with music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and direction by Prince. The musical earned five Tony nominations and has been revived on Broadway twice, in 1993 and 2016.

Three years later, Prince once again recruited Masteroff, hiring him to adapt the John Van Druten play I Am Camera, based on writings by Christopher Isherwood. With songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Cabaret would become one of the 20th Century’s most groundbreaking productions, winning eight of its 11 Tony nominations, including Best Musical.

Joel Grey in 1966’s “Cabaret” Shutterstock

The musical, about a British cabaret singer named Sally Bowles and her American lover Cliff, was set in 1929 Weimar Germany. Masteroff’s book, like Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, addressed such topics (unusual for Broadway musicals) as abortion, Nazis, bisexuality and anti-Semitism. The musical was revived on Broadway in 1987, 1998 and 2014, and of course was adapted by Hollywood for Liza Minnelli in 1972.

Masteroff collaborated with Kander and Ebb once again for 1971’s unsuccessful 70, Girls, 70. His other credits include books for productions of Paramour, Desire Under the Elms, Six Wives and Anna Christie.

Masteroff is survived by a niece.

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