Sally Bowles has been around a long time and most people associate the role with Liza Minelli because of the huge success of the 1972 Bob Fosse film. Even a N.Y. Times article in the Arts and Leisure section recently compared the "new" Sally, Natasha Richardson, with Liza. Liza won an Oscar for her portrayal and I suppose that when one thinks of Sally Bowles, Liza's name is the first thing that comes to mind. However, Sally has a rich history with actresses on the Great White Way.
She first made her appearance in John Van Druten's I Am A Camera (based on Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories) way back in 1951 at the Empire Theater on Broadway and Sally was portrayed by Julie Harris who won a Tony Award for her performance. Also in the cast was Marian Winters who won a Best Supporting Tony for her dramatic performance in the role of Natalia Landauer, a role which was made prominent in the film. The only other familiar character from this production for Cabaret afficionados is that of Fraulein Schneider. It's interesting to see that there was a character listed as "Christopher Isherwood" and this obviously was reincarnated as "Clifford Bradshaw" in the 1967 musical. An interesting side note is that the Tony Award for Best Director in 1952 went to Jose Ferrer for Stalag 17. When Julie Harris left the production, the role was taken over by Barbara Baxley.
Cabaret, the 1967 musical, was based on both the play I Am A Camera and The Berlin Stories and it, of course, is Broadway legend now after it picked up a slew of Tony nominations and awards. The role of Sally was played by actress Jill Haworth on Broadway and when the show opened in London, Judi Dench sang to the world..."What good is sitting alone in your room... come to the Cabaret!" Joel Grey won the Tony for his stirring performance as the Emcee in the Best Supporting Actor category, a role he would repeat in the film. While Haworth didn't pick up a Tony nomination both Lotte Lenya and Peg Murray did in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories with Murray winning for her performance as Fraulein Kost, the lady who entertained the sixth fleet. Obviously there are some juicy roles in Cabaret, the stage musical, and this brings us to the film which is about Liza Minelli and not much else.
There is no question that the film is a great one and Liza was certainly performing the role of a lifetime. The film is still based on the Isherwood stories but it centers on Sally Bowles; leaving the other characters not as well developed as the stage musical. It's for this reason that I'll run to see a production of Cabaret and will only watch the film when I'm in the mood for a Liza concert.
The next Sally Bowles on Broadway was Alyson Reed in the 20th Anniversary revival in 1988. Both Alyson and Regina Resnik (Fraulein Schneider) were nominated for Tony's and Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink on "Hogan's Hero's" ...and wasn't that based on Stalag 17?) also picked up a nomination for his portrayal as Herr Schultz. I remember when the nominations were announced that year wondering if Joel Grey would be nominated again. He wasn't, but it would have been interesting because he had star billing over the show's title which would have put him in the Best Actor category and not Best Supporting as he was in 1967 for the very same role.
Natasha Richardson is the newest Sally Bowles and I hear she's just great and it looks like her performance has Tony nomination written all over it. She's the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, so it must be in the genes.
With all those great stage actresses who have portrayed Sally throughout the years why would anyone even think of the film? I suppose, it's for the same reason that we think of Julie Andrews in the film, The Sound of Music, and forget whats-her-name?
(Ed. note: Natasha Richardson won the 1998 Tony Award for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in Roundabout's Revival of Cabaret).