Skip to content




Here’s a different slant on “There are no small parts – just small actors.”

Mallory Portnoy and Nick Blaemire were lucky and talented enough to land the roles of Betty Comden and Adolph Green in one of 2023’s most acclaimed films: MAESTRO.

There’s a tiny, tiny moment in the film where Comden and Green entertain, which is what they did so often when they weren’t writing a book and/or lyrics for Broadway musicals.

Portnoy and Blaemire decided to build on the opportunity. Last month they again portrayed the illustrious couple, but in far greater detail.


In 1958, Betty-and-Adolph – so established as a unit that the three words were almost always spoken as one – created and performed a two-person retrospective. A PARTY WITH BETTY COMDEN AND ADOLPH GREEN, which they did for 82 performances, included songs from their ON THE TOWN, WONDERFUL TOWN, PETER PAN and BELLS ARE RINGING, among others.

Eighteen years later, they reprised the show, expecting only to play a few East Coast engagements. With a dozen and a half years more under their belts (as well as under Comden’s trademark scarf), they had more material to dispense, including songs from SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING and DO RE MI.

The latter show had one of their most enduring hits: “Make Someone Happy.”

In September of 1976, Comden and Green took their new PARTY to the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge (now home to American Repertory Theatre). They were such a success that a return engagement was booked for January 1977. After I saw the first one, I had to see the second, for this PARTY still ranks as one of my Top Ten Theatrical Experiences of the 12,700-plus stage shows I’ve attended.

As impressed as I was, Arthur Cantor was obviously even more enthralled. The illustrious Broadway producer brought the PARTY to Broadway, where it played 92 performances.

Now, just for fun, let’s speculate what Comden and Green would have included had they repeated the process and done a third PARTY 18 years later.

They would have had three more of their musicals from which they could have cherry-picked songs. One was a year-long success d’estime; the second was a quick failure; the third was a genuine hit that had a two-plus years run.

First came ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. Boston was the first to witness it on January 7, 1978. Broadway would catch up on February 9, 1978.  At the risk of boasting, I had encountered the score several months earlier.

In October, 1977, I was invited by Mary Lea Johnson (a Johnson & Johnson heir) to a backers’ audition of what was then called THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, LTD. at her swank East 58th Street apartment. Of course I accepted, not only to hear the new partnership that Comden and Green had forged with composer Cy Coleman, but also because the three of them would perform the show.

Green would play narcissistic, grandiose Oscar Jaffee, the down-on- his-luck theatrical impresario who needs to win back Lily Garland – now the star that he had created from a work-a-day named Mildred Plotka? Comden would have triple duty, portraying both the meek Mildred and imperious Lily as well as Mrs. Letitia Primrose, who’ll write a check to fund Jaffee’s next show, which makes him very happy until he learns that her check could have been manufactured by Goodyear.

Such an evening would not be to die for, but to live for.

Alas, into every life a little disappointment must fall: Comden was ill that night, and Willi Burke, who’d later be part of the show’s Broadway cast, played her role. So, although it was thrilling to hear Green delightfully aggrandize “I Rise Again” and Coleman pretend to be a rank amateur dramatist in “I Have Written a Play,” we had to imagine what Comden would have done with “Babette,” in which Lily wavered between signing to play Broadway in a sophisticated drawing room comedy or a Biblical film that would star her as Mary Magdalene and – here’s the rub – directed by ex-employer (and, worse, ex-lover) Oscar Jaffee. For that matter, Comden would have been equally delightful in “Repent.” That one had the hypocritical Primrose urging all us sinners to do just that.

Actually, had you been in the St. James Theatre during the week of January 16, 1979, you would have at least seen Comden do “Repent.” How nice of her to pitch in and play Mrs. Primrose when usual star Imogene Coca went on vacation.

I suspect that if Comden and Green had created their third Broadway PARTY, then we would have heard those three delectable songs. We needn’t feel so bad, though, for the original cast album gives us Coca, who received a Tony nomination; John Cullum, who won a Tony as Oscar; and Madeline Kahn.

Much told is the tale that director Hal Prince adored what Kahn did at the opening, and when he praised her afterward, she simply replied, “I hope you don’t think that I can do that every night.” Perhaps she couldn’t, but the original cast album suggests that she replicated that galvanizing performance for the recording.

Although A DOLL’S LIFE couldn’t last more than five performances in 1982, Comden and Green were proud of themselves for trying to write something adventurous and serious. It anticipated Lucas Hnath’s 2017 play A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 by asking what happened to Henrik Ibsen’s Nora after she’d slammed the door on her house and her marriage.

Despite the critical and audience apathy, many had fond words for the score that the pair wrote with Larry Grossman. Here’s betting that in a third iteration of their PARTY, Comden would have played Nora and sung “Learn to Be Lonely,” the score’s most enduring song.

(A sad but inescapable thought: “Learn to Be Lonely” might well have invaded Comden’s head many times after Green had died in 2002. The following four years until her death must have been lonely ones indeed.)

The final third PARTY candidates would come from THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES. This was the team’s last hurrah that received many hurrahs and huzzahs during its 1991-1993 run. Its many honors included both the Best Musical and Best Score Tonys. The latter represented the seventh time that Comden and Green had won the prize.

So, for this couple that had known The Big Time for nearly a half-century, WILL ROGERS’ “The Big Time” would have been so right for the team. Comden knew how to play world-weariness, and would have delivered a strong rendition to “My Big Mistake.” Although we first and foremost think of Green as a comic, he would have been able to bring the sincerity into “Never Met a Man” I didn’t like.

The best fun of all would have been seeing them reprise at least some of the hand-clapping, chest-touching and tow-tapping mechanics that Tommy Tune brought to “(Hooray for) Our Favorite Son.” No, it wouldn’t have been as detailed or elaborate as what Tune devised for Keith Carradine and his ensemble, but seeing Comden and Green do their best would have been a thrill.

Alas, I wasn’t able to make Portnoy and Blaemire’s A PARTY WITH BETTY COMDEN AND ADOLPH GREEN, but I am quite consoled that I’ll soon see Comden and Green (and Jule Styne’s) 1960 musical DO RE MI (which has nothing to do with THE SOUND OF MUSIC).

It’ll be presented by The J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company at their new digs at the AMT Theatre at 354 West 45th Street. After the 2 p.m. matinee on April 20, I’ll do an onstage talk about it and the other musicals of 1960. So, if you attend, do stick around for that.

But, as the famous expression goes, that’s not all. On Tuesday, April 23rd at 7:30 p.m., J2 Spotlight will also do an evening called MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY: THE SONGS OF BETTY COMDEN, ADOLPH GREEN AND JULE STYNE. So, if you missed the recent PARTY with Portnoy and Blaemire, here are two others that should fill the void.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.