Saturday, December 20, 2014

"New York, New York, it's a heckuva town"


In June 1992, lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green narrated a famous London concert performance of On the Town at the Barbican Centre with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. (An audio recording made at the same time is still available, but there doesn't seem to be a DVD issue of the concert.) Here Comden and Green introduce the opening number, as our three sailors, let loose for a single day on the city, sing "New York, New York," with Thomas Hampson as Gabey, Kurt Ollman as Chip, and David Garrison as Ozzie.

"On the Town was a landmark, the first show by a bunch of bright upstarts -- [Leonard] Bernstein, [Betty] Comden and [Adolph] Green, and Jerome Robbins, all still in their 20s -- who would go on, together and apart, to help shape the cultural landscape of the 20th century."
-- Adam Green, in "Innocents on Broadway,"
in the November issue of Vanity Fair

by Ken

After a six-year stint at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he headed out into the world with this inspiring send-off from a teacher who had seen him perform in the class show he had written and directed: "I hope you've got enough talent to make a living at that, because otherwise you're in big trouble."

We have no way of knowing how many people in similar circumstances we never hear more about, either because they just weren't good enough or, more poignantly, because they just never found a way to impress their talents on a big, uncaring world. In this case, though, "he" was Adolph Green, and not only he but a tight circle of his intimates were headed for great things, which came into focus for a number of them when On the Town opened on Broadway on December 28, 1944.

Green's son, Adam, has written a really wonderful piece for Vanity Fair about the history that culminated in that historic night, with both Adolph Green and Betty Comden, who had written the lyrics and who would go on to enjoy a 60-year partnership, in the cast (in roles they had sensibly written for themselves), and with music by Adoph's best friend, Leonard Bernstein. It's such a good story that I want to offer a closer glimpse of it tomorrow, but for tonight I thought we'd hear a musical preview.



IN 1960 COLUMBIA RECORDS ASSEMBLED A STELLAR CAST,

including a number of members of the 1944 original cast (among them Betty and Adolph), for a studio recording of On the Town with the composer conducting. I thought we'd hear the opening number from that classic recording.


Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein at the recording session, with producer Goddard Lieberson in the background

BERNSTEIN, COMDEN, and GREEN: On the Town: Introduction (including "New York, New York")

John Reardon, Gabey; Cris Alexander, Chip; Adolph Green, Ozzie; 1960 studio cast recording, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony


TOMORROW: "A cluster of explosive young talents explode in On the Town"
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