Meet Writer Amanda Green, Who ’Breathes’ Broadway
Amanda Green recently relived a moment of personal heartbreak. She did so with a huge smile.
The songwriter and lyricist attended a two-night concert version of her first Broadway outing, the musical "High Fidelity," a show that died quickly in 2006 but gained a cult following.
On a small stage in the Times Square nightclub 54 Below last week, Green even grabbed the microphone and sang one of her own songs, the funny and poignant "Ready to Settle." Her appearance halfway through the concert triggered several minutes of hearty applause.
"High Fidelity" may have been a box-office flop, but Green, who wrote the lyrics, wasn’t ducking her past. In a season in which two of her musicals got Tony nominations - "Bring It On: The Musical" and "Hands on a Hardbody" - there she was, front and center, celebrating a dud.
"We had so much joy making it and it had such a cataclysmic, brutal ending. Being able to go back has been a blast," she said during an interview the day after the concert’s first night. "We recaptured the joy that we felt when we were making it."
It was a typical Green move, a woman for whom the glass is usually half full. She trusts herself, her team and her skill - qualities that Tony-winning producer Dede Harris has long admired.
"She has a wonderful attitude," Harris says. "As hard as this job is, she always finds a way to come out on the bright side. She really loves what she does. I don’t think this is a job for her. She breathes it."
Seven years after the crash of "High Fidelity," Green’s first season back on Broadway has been tremendous: two shows, two Tony nominations - one for best score and one for best musical.
"It just worked out that way. It certainly wasn’t a Machiavellian plot," she says, laughing. "I would have plotted it better."
And don’t make her pick which show is her favorite: "They’re both beautiful. I can’t choose between my babies."
The first show, "Bring It On: The Musical," was inspired by the 2000 movie of the same name starring Kirsten Dunst. It came to Broadway in the late summer and stuck around, extending into October.
Green collaborated on the lyrics with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who conceived and wrote the music for "In the Heights." Miranda worked on the music with Tom Kitt, who wrote the songs for "Next to Normal" and "High Fidelity," based on Nick Hornby’s novel.
The musical tells the story of a white cheer queen who is redistricted into a more urban school. She adapts and helps build her own dance crew to compete with her old school.
Green and Miranda’s lyrics were grounded in the lives of teens but also had grown-up fun, too, as in the lyric "Since time first began/From Genghis Kahn to Bristol Palin/You need a killer plan."
This month, though long gone, it earned a Tony nomination for best musical, alongside "Kinky Boots," "Matilda: The Musical" and "A Christmas Story, The Musical."
"I was surprised but I was very happily surprised," Green says.
She next teamed up with Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Wright and Phish lead singer Trey Anastasio to create "Hands on a Hardbody," based on a cult documentary about an endurance contest at a Texas car dealership.
Green and Anastasio co-wrote the music, delivering a score drenched in blues, gospel and soul. Green’s lyrics were sorrowful and adult. "You’re fighting for your breath," one song went. "Right from the moment of your birth!"
The show lasted only 56 performances, although it earned three Tony nominations, including one for best original score. Green says she’s still too close to it to explain what went wrong.
"I wish it was still running. I’m proud of all of our work," Green says. "All I know is that on opening night, Doug and Trey and I said to each other, `The show onstage is exactly the show we wanted to create, come what may.’"
The musical championed an unlikely Broadway subject - blue-color Texans desperate for a Nissan truck - but Green vows not to rush now to safer, more commercial projects.
"Of course I’d love to write a big, honkin’ hit. But I don’t know what the formula for that is," she says. "As a writer, you just have to write what you think people will like and what gets me excited to express."
Musicals might be in Green’s DNA: Her mother is actress Phyllis Newman and her father is Broadway lyricist Adolph Green, who collaborated with Betty Comden on hits such as "On the Town," "Wonderful Town" and "Bells Are Ringing."
"I grew up and saw how much fun they were having," Green says of her parents. "They always told me, `It’s a terrible business. Don’t do this. It’s horrible.’ But the joy they had, and the smart, funny, talented people in their living room - why would I want to do anything else? I was a sucker from the beginning."
Green, a Brown University graduate, has written special material for several Broadway stars, including Kristin Chenoweth and Christine Ebersole, and originated the role of Gary Coleman in early workshops of "Avenue Q." She has released a CD, "Put a Little Love in Your Mouth!"
Green’s successful Broadway season has a special twist - Keith Carradine. The actor earned a Tony nomination in the title role in "The Will Rogers Follies," her father’s 1991 musical.
When it was time to work on "Hands on a Hardbody," Green kept picturing Carradine in one of the main roles. Once it was finished, she asked him to join the show. He did and it paid off: He won a Tony nomination for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical.
"The Greens are keeping him in Tony nominations," she says, laughing.