Talk about singin’ in the rain! As the final furies of Floyd unleashed themselves on the city, a host of Broadway names and an understandably sparse but valiant audience braved the wind and water on Thursday night to celebrate the achievements of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whose witty words have shaped some of the century’s most cherished musicals and movies.
The list of this duo’s accomplishments as lyricists and musical book and movie writers filled a dense two pages in the Carnegie Hall program, and they continue to work both as performers and writers, most recently refashioning the libretto for “Die Fledermaus” for the Met. They’ve been working together for six decades now, as Green remarked when the duo graciously took the stage at the close of the program, so perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the hallmarks of their works is energy, a zest that infuses both their funniest songs and their most reflective ballads.
As the Carnegie Hall evening endlessly reminded the audience, another hallmark is an urbane wit: They’re the link between the best wordsmiths of the American musical’s youth, Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter, and the mordant chronicler of its latter years, Stephen Sondheim. Their songs are thus particularly suited to the kind of singing comedians currently best exemplified on Broadway by the great Nathan Lane and the priceless Faith Prince, both of whom provided highlights of the evening.
Prince opened the show with “Perfect Relationship” from “Bells Are Ringing,” observing that this comic ode to an unseen lover is newly apt in our Internet age. She later returned to perform “Is It a Crime?” from the same show, and in both numbers displayed her fine brassy voice and deliciously tart phrasing.
Lane was an emcee of sorts, providing charming patter about the theatrics taking place outside: “I haven’t seen this kind of fear and paranoia since my TV series!” His puckish vocal style gave oomph to Comden and Green’s alliterative romp “Captain Hook’s Waltz” from “Peter Pan,” following a reprise of “The Late Late Show” from “Do Re Mi,” jubilantly revived by Encores last season.
Elaine Stritch, with whom any audience is a privilege, displayed her appreciation for both the acerbic and the poignant selections from the Comden and Green songbook in her two numbers: a vinegary rendition of “100 Ways to Lose a Man” from “Wonderful Town” (“Throw your knowledge in his face/And he’ll never try for second base…”) and the wistful “The Party’s Over” from “Bells Are Ringing.”
The love song is the building block of American musicals, and Comden and Green have supplied words for some of Broadway’s finest. They couldn’t ask for a better interpreter than Brian Stokes Mitchell. He employed a satiny falsetto in “Do Re Mi’s” “Make Someone Happy,” and closed the show with a rousingly romantic “Just in Time.”
Lillias White sang a sassy Sarah Vaughan-ish arrangement of “I Can Cook Too” from “On the Town,” and the evening’s other able performers included Rebecca Luker, David Campbell, dancing duo of Dirk Lumbard and John Scherer and two singers with a particularly personal affinity for the work of Comden and Green: Green’s wife Phyllis Newman and his daughter Amanda Green.
The nicely timed show came in at just under 2 1/2 hours, and such was the happy effect of the concert that it was not at all surprising to discover, upon emerging from it, that Floyd’s wrath had entirely abated, as if banished by the sheer vibrance of the evening’s performers as well as its indefatigable honorees.