Thursday, June 30, 2016

Master of Ceremonies

Maybe you haven't heard? Joel Grey just published a memoir and it is fabulous. Being a Mickey Katz obsessive, I had a special incentive to read Master of Ceremonies. (Mickey Katz is Grey's father).

Which isn't to say that I wasn't curious about the glittering, decade spanning career of Mr. Grey himself, just the opposite. I adore Joel Grey and Master of Ceremonies doesn't disappoint as juicy showbiz memoir. I just published a short (too short) review over at the Jewish Book Council website. (I'm planning a longer think piece, too, about the second generation of Yiddish-American entertainers.)

As you would imagine, Master of Ceremonies devotes a considerable amount of time to Grey's participation in the creation of Cabaret. One of the incidents he talks about is how, during previews, there was a bit of controversy around the song If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song). It's the MC's love song to a woman in a Gorilla suit- a thinly veiled commentary on racialized bigotry on the eve of the Nazi era. At the end of the song the MC delivers a rather manic punchline just to really hit the whole thing home: "If you could see her through my eyes/She wouldn't look Jewish at all." As Grey relates it, Jewish groups protested quite loudly, and quite stupidly (having missed the whole point of the song) and so the producers were forced to change the lyric. Obviously, the lyric got changed back for the movie and Grey's performance here is just. so. perfect. He is a national treasure and if you don't believe me, watch the video. And buy Master of Ceremonies!!!

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