Mallory Portnoy and Nick Blaemire On Resurrecting A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green | Playbill

Special Features Mallory Portnoy and Nick Blaemire On Resurrecting A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green

The Broadway favorites will re-create the theatrical legends' revue at Café Carlyle March 3 and 4.

Mallory Portnoy and Nick Blaemire as Betty Comden and Adolph Green Jenny Anderson

Mallory Portnoy and Nick Blaemire are living a theatre nerd's dream. The Broadway favorites were tapped to play iconic book writer-lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green in Bradley Cooper's Oscar-nominated Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro. The film briefly features the duo at a house party singing "Carried Away" from On the Town. Co-authoring the book and lyrics together (to Bernstein's music) put the duo on the map with a big hit Broadway debut. They would go on to write such musicals as Wonderful TownPeter PanBells Are RingingDo Re MiApplauseOn the Twentieth Century, and many others, as well as the screenplay to Singin' in the Rain.

But Comden and Green were not, perhaps, what you think of people who make writing their primary profession, spending their days cooped up in an office somewhere at a typewriter. They'd gotten their start downtown as musical comics. When the offer came to move uptown to Broadway with On the Town, they shrewdly wrote two roles for themselves in the book, eventually starring in the landmark musical's original production as the sex Neanderthal-obsessed Claire deLoone and Ozzie, the U.S. Navy sailor she'd like to thoroughly inspect.

Comden and Green had an incredible career, but they were also each one of the great personalities of the mid-century U.S., as entertaining to be around as their musicals and movies were to watch.

In 1958, the pair decided to capitalize on this and stage a Broadway revue, A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The resulting show was exactly as they titled it, a wonderful time with two wonderful people as they sing a number of the songs they helped create and share anecdotes from their incredible lives and career. The show became so legendary that they brought it back in 1977, ultimately having this version filmed for airing on PBS.

Green would pass away in 2002, and Comden in 2006. Unlike their much-revived musicals, A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green all but died with them, living on only as cast recordings and a filmed performance of the '70s version that aired on PBS but was never commercially released.

Enter Portnoy and Blaemire. After digging into Comden and Green's lives and work for Maestro, they decided they just aren't done with them. The pair has partnered with producer Rick Miramontez and director Maggie Burrows to bring back A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green, in a pair of performances at Café Carlyle March 3 and 4.

We recently got to chat with Portnoy and Blaemire about Maestro, Comden and Green, and bringing back this true piece of theatrical legend. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green

How did this project come about?
Nick Blaemire:
We had the best time working on Maestro, and getting to know these characters. And then the movie came out, and people seem to respond to Betty and Adolph. We were approached by a few people about reviving their show, A Party With Comden and Green live, which seemed a little insane at first, and still seems insane. But in the spirit of Betty and Adolph, we’re doing it anyway.

You’re only briefly featured in Maestro. Did you film more than what made the final cut?
I think everybody did. There must be a seven-hour cut somewhere, and we’re all like, ‘Release the seven-hour cut!’ But it was such a joy. So much of the process was about improv because our auditions were one line, a “hello.” Suddenly we get on set, and they were like, “What if you guys sang a song? What if you sang two songs? What if you were in this little moment when they’re doing the exposition outside?” We had both assumed Bradley Cooper would be a very busy, impossible entity to reach during the process—and he was so the opposite. It felt very much like we were making a movie with our friends, and that experience really permeated all the way through. It has continued to be this gift that keeps on giving, even long after we thought we were done, and this is very much part of that.

What I’m hearing is you’re both close, personal friends with Bradley Cooper.
Mallory Portnoy: [laughing] Totally. He really endowed us with the expertise on our characters. We were able to do such a deep dive beyond just preparing for a movie where you have your scene and these are your lines. I felt so much joy in the preparation, just being able to watch as much Comden and Green footage or movies and read their books as I could, and just immerse myself in that world that I already loved so much. He told us we were the experts on these people, and wanted to know what we thought they would do in whatever scenario.

NB: They are such a deep well of material and genius, and they are in so many ways the foundation of musical theatre as we know it. I mean On the Town changed everything.

Something that is so palpable in Maestro, and just thinking back to that time, is the amount of untapped, unpolished genius that was all together and collaborating on stuff at that moment in history.
When I tell people about the movie or what we’re doing at Carlyle and that I’m playing Betty Comden and Nick is Adolph Green, there’s either a complete blank stare or they’re lit up with such fervor because they’re such huge fans. I think as Bradley has been trying to introduce more of the world to Leonard Bernstein, we are also trying to introduce more of the world to Comden and Green. And give the people who love them already a delightful experience. For the people who have no idea who they are, maybe make them realize they do know who they are.

I’ve found over the years that theatre people are often not aware of their film career. Obviously they did a ton for Broadway, but they also wrote arguably the best movie musical of all time—Singin' in the Rain. Certainly one of the best.
Yeah. It’s crazy the level of skill they had, and they were such a great combination. And they both seem like they were great people, too. That spirit is hard to come by, especially as things get more expensive and scarier for people to make art. Now it’s like stress first, but back then it really seemed like fun first. We’re really trying to bring that back to the Party. We’re going to have a party!

Mallory Portnoy and Nick Blaemire as Betty Comden and Adolph Green Jenny Anderson

Let’s get into the weeds. Are you doing the ‘50s or the ‘70s version?
We are doing an amalgam. We’ve been talking about it back and forth a lot with our producer, Rick Miramontez, and our director, Maggie Burrows. The thing that became clear is that the ‘50s version has no knowledge of what they’re about to do. And it’s almost like the ‘70s version has too much knowledge. We’re trying to find the version that, as Mallory said, is a comprehensive intro to Comden and Green for the people who don’t know. For the people who know, there’s all kinds of Easter eggs and really interesting anecdotes. We tried to draw from their work and make something that feels accessible. The big difference is no one has done this show except for Comden and Green. It’s a wonderful serendipity to have been asked to do this.

What have you learned about them in your research that has been most surprising?
I think the big thing is that there was no rift in 50 years of working together. They were friends first, and their families were friends. The community was so tight knit as they were coming up. Collaborations usually don’t last longer than 10 years. It’s hard. It’s a marriage in so many ways—and they were both married to other people! They had so many moments of failure along the way that were almost immediately buttressed by Singin' in the Rain-level success. You’d think after these failures, they’d start blaming or pointing fingers, but they always transcended. The collaboration was always bigger than any one show. It’s quite humbling to think about in terms of the ego that comes into making art—that they were able to put that down and put the work and their collaboration first.

MP: Betty was a woman living in a man’s world at a time where she could not have done it on her own. Their relationship was so extraordinary—that she was able to play with the boys and be in that space and successful in that space while having a husband and children and a pretty hard personal life. I read her saying in an interview, talking about their commitment, that it was so not the norm for a man and a woman to be together like that. They weren’t married. They weren’t brother and sister. They weren’t two men, two brothers. They just had this attitude of 'we’re doing it anyways'—and they didn’t even take any other work separately. They were committed to each other in a professional, friendly way. I think Betty was kind of the ultimate straight woman, with Adolph the sardonic, cutting wit underneath it.

I think one of the things we consistently get wrong, as we try to celebrate equality and the people who are helping create a level playing field, is we too often forget the people that were doing it before it was in vogue. Betty is such a great example of that.
MP: Yeah. She was a very ambitious woman. She kept her personal life private, it seems. She was so committed to the work. Something that Nick and I have been talking about is their biography, which I have on my bookshelf and have been referencing for now two years. Just last week I looked over and saw the title and it hit me in a way that it never had. The title is They Made Us Happy. I was like, that’s it. They made us happy. They had this kind of truthfulness and warmth. Purity sounds a little bit to Pollyanna, but there was nothing snarky there. Their comedy was never taking anyone down. It was satirical, and it was true. And it was so beautifully witty that it was just able to transcend.

Their work is so playful.
It’s so fun. The stuff works so well that it has actually been easier to memorize than I feared, even as intricate as it is. It’s so beautifully structured.

How do you handle the impersonation aspect?
I think any time you’re playing a real person, you just can never impersonate because that will just be the death of the performance. You have to imbue it with your own self, your own point of view, your own perspective, while absorbing as much of their mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, and the way they sound and move as possible. But it is a marriage between self and character. We’re trying to have a marriage of that while being as committed to the chemistry between them as possible. That is the other character in the space, their relationship to each other.

NB: It’s fascinating to play writers singing their songs, because they were not focused on sounding like a million bucks. That’s fun to play. It takes the onus off of us to give you shiny, perfect high notes. This is about presenting the songs and fighting any impulses to gild the lily.

A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green is at Café Carlyle March 3 and 4. Tickets are available at

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