He is perhaps best known as the slightly menacing Master of Ceremonies in the stage and film versions of Cabaret, but his career embraces a wide number of other leading and supporting roles on stage and on screen. The recipient of numerous honors over the years, Joel Grey was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1932.
Grey’s father, Mickey Katz, was also a performer – an actor, instrumentalist, and director. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1950, Grey headed east to begin his long career in the theater. In 1951 he debuted on Broadway under the name Joel Kaye in the musical revue Borscht Capades, directed by his father. By 1956 he had changed his name to Joel Grey and starred in the opening-night cast of The Littlest Revue, a musical by Ogden Nash and Vernon Duke, which also featured Tammy Grimes and Larry Storch.
In Neil Simon’s comedy Come Blow Your Horn – later adapted for the screen with Frank Sinatra in the leading role – Grey took over the part of Buddy Baker in the early 1960s. Shortly afterward Grey stepped in as Littlechap, the womanizing central character in the musical Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. He then took over the lead in another musical, the H. G. Wells-inspired Half a Sixpence, in a production that also featured a pre-Monty Python John Cleese.
But it was in 1966 that Grey created the part for which he is still most widely known, that of the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, the Kander and Ebb musical based on Christopher Isherwood’s stories of decadent Berlin in the early days of Nazism. The hit show, which also starred Lotte Lenya, scooped up multiple Tonys®, including one for Best Musical, and Grey won a Tony® for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Playing the same role in the movie adaptation of Cabaret, and performing alongside Liza Minnelli, Grey won an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor in 1972.
One of Broadway’s all-time brightest stars, George M. Cohan, was the character Grey next portrayed on Broadway, in the musical George M! (1968), which also featured Bernadette Peters; Grey was nominated for a Tony®. He starred as a title character once again in Goodtime Charley (1975), the Joan of Arc musical, and Grey once again earned a Tony® nomination; he then starred in the Jerry Herman musical The Grand Tour (1979). Grey’s most recent Broadway role was that of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the musical Wicked (2003), which presents the Oz story from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West. Original cast recordings of Cabaret, George M!, and Goodtime Charley are available on Sony, as are his two early pop albums, Only the Beginning and Black Sheep Boy
Grey’s film credits include The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Kafka, Venus Rising, The Empty Mirror, A Christmas Carol (1999, with Patrick Stewart), The Fantasticks, and Dancer in the Dark. Recent television engagements include appearances on Star Trek: Voyager, Oz, Alias, and House.