Remembering Adolph Green, a real gentleman, troubadour

October 26, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

My friend Steve Gavin handed me a ticket across the city desk of the old News American. Steve, then a columnist and forever the Broadway hound, had been up to New York to see On the Twentieth Century at the St. James Theatre. He thought I would like the show and produced the little stub that put me in an orchestra seat a few weeks later.

I think back to that afternoon in 1978, when I got my chance to see this show, newly written in part by Adolph Green, who died this past Thursday in Manhattan. Here was a man who wrote the words to the songs and often the books behind some of my favorite nights in a playhouse.

I also recall another time, maybe 25 years ago, when Green and Betty Comden, his longtime writing and acting partner, performed on the Mechanic stage in their show, A Party with Comden and Green. Like everything the pair did, the show delivered wit, humor in good taste. It was pure entertainment. It bore the imprint of their work. It was funny and more than a little bit wise.

Then about five years ago, I got a call from New York. It is my old pal Roger Sturtevant. He said why not come up; Adolph Green would be spending the afternoon with another friend, Michael Lavine, a vocal coach who prepares performers for the theater. Never one to give up a chance to meet one of my heroes, I sprung for an overpriced Amtrak ticket.

What happened for the next four hours was pure Broadway magic. Michael played and played on the piano. Adolph Green sang away - but what I remember most was his smile, his delight, his sense of accomplishment, at just having a damn good time. It wasn't about Adolph Green. It was about singing some of the uppest, most merry songs. I watched his poppy eyes dance. He loved words, rhymes, puns and their happy mixings.

He was not a theatrical prima donna at all. He was unpretentious, a courtly gentleman, a statesman of the theater. This was a pretty generous use of his time, I thought; but I soon realized this was only the first act.

He heard that the New York Public Library was having a used book sale the next day. Without being coaxed along by public relations types, he showed up at the library (ever the New Yorker, he walked) as theater and book collectors and Broadway groupies tore through tables of books, scores, bound volumes.

Word spread that Adolph Green was there, a gazillion people snatched up copies of his On the Town, Bells Are Ringing or Wonderful Town.

As a winter light filtered through some big windows overlooking West End Avenue, he at on the piano bench and cheerfully signed copies, gave out autographs, ever Adolph Green, one happy troubadour.

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