Hopping on ‘The Bandwagon’ of Musical Legends

By Masha Leon

Published February 25, 2005, issue of February 25, 2005.

How do you pay tribute to musical legends? You put on a show! And that’s just what the Drama League did on stage at The Pierre hotel at the league’s January 31 benefit tribute to lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

There were film clips from the Comden and Green classics “The Bandwagon,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Wonderful Town”; loving accolades by Kitty Carlisle Hart to a delicate Comden in a red-velvet gown; a show-stopping excerpt from “On the Twentieth Century,” sung by Judy Kaye (who made her Broadway debut in the original 1978 production); vignettes from Comden and Green classics performed by more than 30 singers, dancers and musicians, and cast members from “Avenue Q” performing a puppet version of how Comden (née Elizabeth Cohen) and Green (who died in 2002) first met in 1938. What a show!

As Margaret Styne (widow of composer Jules Styne, who collaborated with Comden and Green in “Bells Are Ringing” and “Peter Pan”) looked on, composer Charles Strouse first kissed Lauren Bacall’s hand, and then kissed her on the lips!

Adding glitz, glamour and talent were Broadway/film producer Marty Richards, Borghese cosmetics CEO Georgette Mosbacher, P.R. maven R. Couri Hay and artist Hunt Slonem. When I met Slonem five years ago, he fielded my question about his last name’s spelling by admitting, “There was one letter change.” “Was it an ‘i’? I asked.… Could the family’s name have been Slonim? He insisted that his family came from Moscow and St. Petersburg. Since anyone named Slonim, Slonimski or Slonimsky most likely had ancestors from Slonim (once Poland, now Belarus), and since Slonimers are Litvaks… I just wondered….

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On February 1, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program, donned imaginary grease paint as he and Eddie Jacobs — a former actor (“Barnum”) and one of the evening’s honorees — trod the boards at The Waldorf-Astoria in a dramatic re-enactment of Jacobs’s transformation from unaffiliated Jewish cynic to Judaism activist. So captivated was the audience, there was total silence — a remarkable feat at a Jewish dinner.

NJOP is currently active in the United States, Canada and in 30 countries and, according to Buchwald, “has reached more than 780,000 North American Jews and engaged them in Jewish life.” NJOP’s “Shabbat Across America/Canada” campaign is part of a program to “address the critical issue of the spiraling losses of Jews to Jewish life due to assimilation and lack of Jewish knowledge.”

Rabbi Buchwald praised real estate operator and NJOP supporter Sam Domb for his generosity to NJOP and to several yeshivas, and for the $20,000 donation earmarked for victims of the tsunami tragedy. On December 30, 2004, Domb held a meeting at his office at which he, a Holocaust survivor, told Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United Nations Bernard Goonetilleke: “Mr. Ambassador, one of the first statements that Osama bin Laden said after 9/11 was that the Jewish people are evil people…. We are good people. When the Germans led my people to the crematoria and murdered our wives and babies, no one stood up for us, no one spoke on our behalf, no one intervened. And although no one cared about us, we care about your people, the people of Sri Lanka.”

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Bravo to Rob Davis for founding Hedge Funds Care — an organization that raises millions to support activities focusing on the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect — and for keeping the organization’s February 10 “Open Your Heart” benefit on split-second timing. The hundreds of watch-checking, cell-phone-addicted “suits” who arrived at the New York Marriott Marquis at 5:30 that evening were out by 8:30!

Keynote speaker New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer joshed about often being introduced as Aaron Burr, then challenged, “If you think I’m tough, [then] choose your weapon” — an allusion to New York State’s 1784-91 attorney general, who fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton in that infamous 1804 duel. Deftly, Spitzer thrust and parried one-liners: “Don’t need to leave your Social Security numbers at the door. We already have them…. Under every third seat there is a subpoena.” In closing his brief address, Spitzer underscored the need for a “Wall Street with integrity…. Those who object to our actions… trying to protect the status quo… do not serve us all.” En garde!

Among HFC’s more than two-dozen 2004/2005 grantees are the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services Judicial Consultation Project and the Westchester Jewish Community Services Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Center.

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My first viewing of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Central Park mega-production, “The Gates,” was after it had rained, and they looked like soggy shower curtains. I returned last Sunday for a second viewing. The sun filtered through the billowing saffron sheets. It was an up day for Kodak stock, as streams of camera-toting tourists, seniors, teens and families with children flowed through “The Gates.”

Something about those flapping shmattes nagged at my memory — but what? Then it dawned on me.… “Think convention!” The gates resemble the square metal frames from which hang pleated curtains used as back walls and booth dividers at exhibition halls and convention centers, displaying a company’s booth number and logo. I do recall one saffron backdrop à la “The Gates.” It was in Anaheim, Calif., at a Hare Krishna booth in the Small Publishers’ section of an American Booksellers Association convention. But as I was leaving, I overheard, “Isn’t that the color that felons wear in prison?”



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