A pause to remember talented Ms. Comden


NEW YORK -- Tonight the marquee of every Broadway theater will be dimmed at exactly 8 p.m. for one minute in memory of the great Betty Comden. With the death last week of the dazzlingly talented Betty, we get further and further away from the era some call the "golden age" of movies. A healthy portion of that gold came from the amazing Hollywood ensemble known as "the Freed Unit," a group that added so much to our lives, then and now, by turning out such Technicolored movie gems as "Singin' in the Rain," "On the Town," "The Bandwagon," "Good News," "The Barkleys of Broadway," "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," "Bells Are Ringing" and "It's Always Fair Weather." At the time, some of those films seemed more rhinestones than genuine jewels, but now, in retrospect and by comparison, they all look priceless. They also would be impossible to re-create today. Betty outlived her great writing and composing partner Adolph Green by four years and their great friend Judy Holliday by 41 (!) years, but it's a sure thing that the Comden-Green contributions will be making an impact for eons to come. And, of course, not only did they do that matchless work for the Freed Unit at MGM but also made so many other weighty contributions, such as the screenplay for 1958's "Auntie Mame," one of the funniest movies that has yet been made, as well as a long, unmatchable list of Broadway shows, from "On the Town" in the 1940s and "Wonderful Town" in the '50s all the way to Lauren Bacall's "Applause" in 1970 and, their last major Broadway show, 1991's "The Will Rogers Follies," accumulating seven Tony Awards along the way. She and Green also became genuine onstage stars in their own right in 1958 when they did a successful Broadway revue called "A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green," which they later did in an updated version in 1977. Always as delightful a presence in life as she was onstage, this very classy lady was understandably slowing down as time marched on, often unable to navigate in or out of a room, or on and off a stage, without help. But boom! -- once she'd get in front of an audience, be it for one of Phyllis Newman's benefits, a Carnegie Hall salute in her honor or the memorial for Green in 2002, the back would stiffen, the old stamina would reassert itself, the years would melt away and with her sly wit, abundant charm, funny stories and lively humor, she'd invariably steal the show. If ever a lady was born to be a welcome scene-stealer, it was Betty Comden . ... Tonight, Michael Feinstein begins a three-day prevue of his annual, but always different, Christmas show at his N.Y. performance headquarters, Feinstein's at the Regency. Then, after a four-day break, he returns Dec. 5 for a four-week run of the holiday songfest, this year called "Home for the Holidays"; it'll run through Dec. 30, followed by a special, all-new show he'll do in the room on New Year's Eve . ... Meanwhile, Andrea Marcovicci continues her salute to famed nightclub chantesue Hildegarde, "I'm Feeling Like a Million," at the Oak Room of the Algonquin through Jan. 13; this marks Marcovicci's 20th anniversary season in the famed room, with Shelly Markham on piano and Jered Egan on bass. ... Meanwhile, at the city's other premier cabaret nigthspot, the Cafe Carlyle, Steve Tyrell is in residence through Dec. 31 with his current show, "This Time of the Year," which is also the title of his new Christmas album for Columbia.