For Minnelli, 66, “Cabaret” holds a certain family irony: It reversed an approach to movie musicals she said was pioneered by her late father, famed director Vincente Minnelli, in a 1944 film starring her mother, Judy Garland. The actress-singer and Vincente Minnelli were married from 1945-51. Garland, 47, died in 1969.
“My father changed everything when he did `Meet Me in St. Louis,’” Minnelli said. “That was the first time a musical had taken the songs outside of the theater, and people sang at home and on the street.”
“`Cabaret,’” she said, “changed it back,” with Fosse staging nearly all the musical numbers in the nightclub setting. An exception: “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” sung by a handsome, innocent-faced teenage boy, who as the camera pulls back, is chillingly revealed to be garbed in a Nazi uniform.
(Professor Hischak agrees that “Cabaret” represented a “radical” departure in movie musical staging. But he differs on the contribution of Minnelli’s “Meet Me in St. Louis”: “Granted, in that movie he did get away from doing all the songs in one studio setting,” Hischak said. “But I can’t say it was revolutionary at the time because movies as early as 1933, such as `Flying Down to Rio’ and `42nd Street,’ totally destroyed the idea that songs took place on a stage set.”)
Her dad had a role in how she approached her character’s style, the actress said. When she sought inspiration from the sleekly elegant look of Marlene Dietrich, who was famous in the 1930s (and beyond), Vincente Minnelli protested.
“My father said, `No, no, no,’ and he showed me pictures of (actresses) Louise Brooks and Theda Bara. He said they were marvelous brunettes,” she recalled. The result: Sally’s heavily lined, thickly lashed eyes, defined lips and a sleek cap of black hair with an impish _ devilish? _ point extending down her forehead.
Two days before shooting began, she put the look together for Fosse’s benefit.
“I knocked on his door and said, `What do you think?’” Minnelli recalled. He gave a surprised stammer, she said, followed quickly by, “It’s good!”
How does Minnelli, one of the few artists to win an Oscar, a Tony (her first was at age 19, for “Flora, the Red Menace”), an Emmy and a Grammy, feel about being so closely identified with “Cabaret”?
“Honey, to tell you the truth, anything anybody says is fine,” she said, adding a husky, hearty laugh.
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