Joseph Masteroff, Tony-Winning Librettist on 'Cabaret,' Dies at 98

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Joseph Masteroff

A master of the Great American musical, he also wrote the book for 'She Loves Me.'

Joseph Masteroff, the Tony-winning librettist behind the Harold Prince musical classics Cabaret and She Loves Me, died Friday at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey. He was 98.

Howard Marren, Masteroff's friend and literary executor, confirmed his death through the Roundabout Theatre Company, which produced the smash 1998-2004 and 2014-15 Broadway revivals of Cabaret that were co-directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, as well as two revivals of She Loves Me, the most recent a 2016 hit that starred Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski.

In a statement, Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes called Masteroff "one of the 20th century's masters of the Great American musical. His She Loves Me and Cabaret helped shape our theater, and we were honored to present them both on Broadway. Joe was a close collaborator, a legendary wit and a dear friend."

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, which starred Julie Harris as a shy young woman emotionally abused by a handsome roue (Farley Granger). The cast also included Larry Hagman and June Havoc.

Prince saw The Warm Peninsula and selected the self-deprecating Masteroff to adapt a musical based on a Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo. With music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and direction by Prince, She Loves Me, starring Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey and Jack Cassidy, opened to rave reviews and earned five Tony nominations, including one for best musical.

In 1966, Prince tapped Masteroff to adapt John Van Druten's I Am Camera, which became Cabaret.

Set in 1929 Germany, the provocative musical, with songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb, centered on the star-crossed romance between a young American writer, Cliff (Bert Convy), and Sally Bowles (Jill Haworth), a decadent chanteuse.

Cabaret collected eight Tonys out of 11 nominations, including best musical. Three major Broadway revivals — in 1987, 1998 and 2014 — followed its long initial run. In addition to best revival, the 1998 production landed Tonys for actors Alan Cumming, Natasha Richardson and Ron Rifkin. Cumming reprised his role as the louche Emcee when the production returned in 2014, starring opposite Michelle Williams, Emma Stone and Sienna Miller for various periods during the course of the run.

Masteroff was born in Philadelphia on Dec. 11, 1919. His parents owned a notions store, and he dreamed about working on Broadway since he was a boy. He graduated with an English degree from Temple University and served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

As a veteran, Masteroff qualified for free classes at the American Theatre Wing's Professional School, and he studied playwriting under Robert Anderson of Tea and Sympathy fame.

A few years later, Masteroff wrote The Warm Peninsula, in which Harris toured nationally for a year before the play made it to Broadway.

After Masteroff was brought in to doctor Jerry Herman's Dear World in 1969, Angela Lansbury won a Tony for her performance in the Paris-set musical.

Masteroff's other musicals include 70, Girls 70, another Kander & Ebb collaboration that reached Broadway in 1971; Georgia Avenue; Paramour; Desire Under the Elms; Six Wives; and Anna Christie

His last show on Broadway was the 2016 revival of She Loves Me, the same year he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Survivors include his niece, Judith.