Undeterred by frigid winds whipping down 44th Street and through Shubert Alley, hundreds of friends and fans of Adolph Green -- who co-wrote several classic Broadway shows and films with his longtime partner Betty Comden -- lined up to gain entry to a tribute to Green at the Shubert Theatre this afternoon. Born on December 2, 1914, Green died on October 23, 2002. The tribute included selections from the musicals that he and Comden wrote in collaboration with such composers as Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, and Cy Coleman.
Titled "Happy Birthday Adolph" and subtitled "a tribute to his remarkable life, personal and professional," the program began as Kevin Kline -- a Tony Award winner for his role in On the Twentieth Century, the 1978 musical that Comden and Green wrote with Cy Coleman -- read a missive from Mayor Bloomberg proclaiming December 3, 2002 to be "Adolph Green Day" in the City of New York. Widow Phyllis Newman then took the stage and told how she had first met Green while auditioning on the stage of the Shubert to be Judy Holliday's understudy in the Comden-Green-Styne show Bells Are Ringing. (She got the job.) Newman said that she was at first intimidated by her future husband's stellar reputation in the theater, by his sharp intelligence and encyclopedic knowledge, and by his "mind boggling eccentricities." But, she said, Green allayed her discomfort, extolling her as "a combination of Ann-Margret and Margaret Mead."
A trio consisting of Jonathan Dokuchitz, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Norm Lewis offered a brief rendition of the quintessential Comden and Green song: "New York, New York," from On the Town (music by Bernstein), the show that brought C&G to Broadway as writers and performers. Next up were Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Martin Hingston, reprising their amazing performance of the Comden-Green-Styne comedy revenge number "If" as seen and heard in Chenoweth's recent concert at Lincoln Center. Legendary director Harold Prince shared his own anecdotes of Green, including a story about the forgetful genius going off to the veterinarian but forgetting to bring the dog. Composer Larry Grossman then sat at the piano to play and sing the first few measures of a number from A Doll's Life, the short-lived, 1982 musical inspired by Ibsen's A Doll House; the song was then taken up by Judy Kaye, who replaced Madeline Kahn as the female lead in On the Twentieth Century shortly after that show opened.
Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for Hallelujah, Baby! (1967), introduced "Being Good" from that Styne-Comden-Green score as sung by Roz Brown. Peter Stone, who wrote the book for The Will Rogers Follies (lyrics by Comden and Green, music by Coleman), noted two of his favorite C&G moments: the "Hialeah!" Chorus from Bells Are Ringing and a marvelously nutty wisecrack uttered by Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain. Coleman sang "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like" from Will Rogers after telling us that it was Green who suggested that Rogers' most famous pronouncement be set to a previously existing, ballad-like melody by Coleman rather than serve as the basis for an up-tempo number, as Coleman had originally planned. Old friend Lauren Bacall remembered a not easily forgotten occasion when she and Green and Sydney Chaplin -- the star of both Bells Are Ringing and Subways Are For Sleeping -- were heading through the streets of New York as the two men sang barely printable parody lyrics to "It's Love" from the Comden-Green-Bernstein show Wonderful Town ("It's clap! It's clap! Well, who would have thought it? If this is clap, then why have I caught it?")
Faith Prince, star of the recent revival of Bells Are Ringing, sang "The Party's Over" from that delightful musical; Joel Grey came on to deliver "I Like Myself" from It's Always Fair Weather; and Sandy Duncan lovingly recreated her performance of "Never, Never Land" from Peter Pan (she brilliantly played the title role on Broadway after Mary Martin and before Cathy Rigby). Marc Shaiman, composer of Hairspray, did a number called "Mamushka" that he wrote with Comden and Green to be sung by Raul Julia in the film version of The Addams Family -- a song which was almost entirely cut before the movie opened. Donna Murphy, who scored a great success in the City Center Encores! series presentation of Wonderful Town and reprised "100 Easy Ways" from that show in the Encores! 10th Anniversary Bash last week, reprised it again to the delight of the audience assembled for the Green tribute.
Dokuchitz, Feguson, and Lewis returned (as they did at several points throughout the event) to introduce Betty Comden, frail of body and voice but utterly compelling in her reminiscences of her cherished partner. The recipient of standing ovations at her entrance and her exit, Comden described Green as "a creature that could have been composed only out of his own head." Next, film director Sidney Lumet introduced clips of Green in My Favorite Year and in two far less well-known pieces of celluloid, Simon and I Want to Go Home. Also on view was a sample of Green's performance as Dr. Pangloss in the concert version of Candide that was conducted by Bernstein, co-starring Jerry Hadley and June Anderson.
Son Adam Green came on stage, told the audience that there had been much "wailing and rending of garments" when he had announced to his family that he didn't plan to become a professional performer, and then offered a stunning knock-off of his dad's famous rendition of "Captain Hook" from Peter Pan. His sister, Amanda offered "Daddy's Shoulders," a song of her own composition, in tribute to her father; when the screen behind her was suddenly filled with an image of the young child Amanda being carried on Adolph's shoulders on a long-ago day at the beach, the audience issued a collective sigh. Bernadette Peters, a co-star of the first Broadway revival of On the Town, began a heartfelt "Some Other Time" from that show and then was joined by Newman and the male trio. But the finale of the program was left to Green himself, caught on audiotape in a typically ebullient performance of "I Rise Again" from On the Twentieth Century.
Green seems to have been universally beloved, as evidenced by the large turnout at the Shubert this afternoon and by the warm memories and side-splitting stories that were shared. The music director for the tribute was Eric Stern; additional piano accompaniment was provided by such gentlemen as Rob Fisher and Paul Trueblood. Aside from those who spoke and/or performed in Green's honor, the great many notable attendees included Kitty Carlisle Hart, Walter Cronkite, Frank Rich, Liz Smith, Kander & Ebb, Kate Burton, Polly Bergen, Terrence McNally, Bob Balaban, William Ivey Long, and Stephen Sondheim.