rambling reporter

Tribute lets Comden's songs do the talking

Broadway said goodbye to the late, great Betty Comden last week in a touching way that I think she would have adored: Everyone present let the words of the wise and witty Betty — who died in November at 89 — and her longtime writing partner Adolph Green do all the speaking. No one waxed on and on Tuesday about the pleasures and/or foibles of knowing and/or working with Comden (not that there wasn't plenty to be said on that subject), nor did anyone tell Betty C. anecdotes, which, at these memorial affairs, often tend to become more about the speaker than the honoree. But this time — Hallelujah! as Lauren Bacall announced at the top — the afternoon would solely focus on the lyrics written by Comden and Green. Nothing more was necessary. The lyrics to "New York, New York" (from "On the Town"), "Make Someone Happy" (from "Bells Are Ringing"), "My Own Morning" (from "Hallelujah, Baby!") and the 10 other songs delivered by the likes of Barbara Cook, Leslie Uggams, Lucie Arnaz, Christine Ebersole and a stageful of other talented ladies and one male (Lipsinka) gave a definitive indication of the depth, sauciness, wisdom and humor of the lady being honored. Another splendid decision: With only an hour to give samples of the Comden and Green song catalog, many of their most famous numbers were left unsung to instead highlight some gems that, by fate or folly, never received widespread attention. One striking example: "I Like Myself," music by Andre Previn, lyrics by Comden and Green, written for the 1955 Arthur Freed musical "It's Always Fair Weather." It's a song Gene Kelly jauntily sang as he tap-danced (remarkably) on roller skates. Elaine Stritch did the song her way at the memorial, singing it to sensational effect as a quiet, thoughtful romantic ballad — giving the lyrics a heretofore untapped new meaning and, who knows, maybe a new life span. (Don't be surprised to hear the Stritch version in many a future cabaret act.) David Zippel and Lee Mindel produced and directed the event, held at the Majestic Theatre, with Craig Urquhart also producing and Paul Trueblood as the musical director; others in the talented cast included Lillias White, Karen Ziemba, Mary Testa, the Callaway sisters (Liz and Ann Hampton), Beth Leavel, Stephanie J. Block and Judith Blazer, with Green's widow Phyllis Newman and daughter Amanda Green also individually shining. Something else that would have pleased an old Broadway-Hollywood vet like Betty Comden: The theater was jammed to the rafters with the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, Liz Smith, Celeste Holm, Michael Feinstein and Robert Kimball for starters, with a long line that stretched along nearly the entire block of West 44th — people hoping to find an empty seat inside the hall and pay their own homage to one of Broadway's brightest contributors. … A few hours later, Eartha Kitt launched the fall season at the Cafe Carlyle, her 17th year as a visiting attraction in that famous room where she is, at age 80, still kittenish, purring and showing off remarkable singing pipes. More to come about her and the Cafe Carlyle's recent refurbishing and restoration (impressive); there's also much to say about KT Sullivan's great new show at the legendary Oak Room at the Algonquin, as thoroughly entertaining a cabaret act as you can find anywhere in Manhattan at the moment.