As the daughter of the celebrated Broadway lyricist and librettist Adolph Green, Amanda Green watched her father and his writing partner, Betty Comden, shepherd many a new musical to the Great White Way. In fact, when she was a kid growing up in the late 1970s, she witnessed them rework and refine the out-of-town tryout for On the Twentieth Century at the Colonial Theatre in Boston — one of a number of musicals the legendary team debuted at that landmark venue, including On the Town, Wonderful Town and Subways Are For Sleeping (which co-starred Amanda's mother, Phyllis Newman).
"I remember hanging out with my brother, and my dad giving us money to go play pinball at the arcade because they were rehearsing for hours and hours," recalls Green during an interview at a midtown Manhattan producing office. "It was so much fun being there and seeing what a cool life it was and watching what cool work he did."
Earlier this fall, Green found herself back at the Colonial Theatre — only this time she was the one in the spotlight, reshaping and revising her own Broadway-bound musical, High Fidelity, which opens at the Imperial Theatre in New York this month. Based on the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby that was beloved by slackers and record geeks the world over, the rock 'n' roll-inspired High Fidelity features a book by acclaimed playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, music by composer Tom Kitt and lyrics by Green.
"In a way, I feel closer to my father because it's like, 'Wow, so this is what he went through all those years,'" says the Broadway baby, flashing her wide, luminous smile after a long day game-planning rewrites for the show. "As a kid, I was privy to his teeth-gnashing and the frustration of trying to get things right. But now going through it myself — the joy and frustration and the nervousness and excitement — is really quite amazing." While Green may be bona fide theatre royalty, she is also an accomplished singer–songwriter and lyricist in her own right, performing frequently in clubs around Manhattan (her latest CD is called "Put a Little Love in Your Mouth"). Green also wrote some new lyrics for a revival of her father's 1967 musical Hallelujah, Baby! after being asked by original director and librettist Arthur Laurents to help him update the show. The new version was staged last year at several regional theatres.
High Fidelity, though, marks Green's first high-profile musical, as well as her and Kitt's Broadway debuts. The two first met at a BMI musical theatre workshop in 1998 and became fast friends. Kitt, who also fronts a rock band, became Green's musical director and eventually approached her with his idea of translating Hornby's novel to the stage.
Of course, this was no easy task. The novel is something of a sacred text for many Gen X-ers — and had already spawned a hit 2000 film starring John Cusack. The story revolves around the rock music-obsessed, commitment-phobic character of Rob, a record store owner with a penchant for making endless Top Five lists and wallowing in his misery while struggling with a serious case of Peter Pan syndrome. When Rob is dumped by his longtime live-in girlfriend Laura, who's fed up with his childish ways, he decides to go back and seek out the ex-girlfriends on his "all-time desert-island Top-Five breakups" list — a lineup from which Laura is conspicuously left off. Along for the ride are "the musical moron twins" who work in his store — the shy, geeky yet sweet Dick and the rude, loudmouth rock elitist Barry (immortalized in the hit film by Jack Black, in his breakout role).
"I love [Hornby's] humor. His characters are so complex and funny and smart and self-deprecating. Rob has big passions and he's very angry and he's very confused. And everybody in the book is so explosive. It felt like these were the kind of people who had things to sing about," explains Green, whose lyrical inspirations include everyone from her father and Sondheim to punk rockers The Clash and country crooner Lyle Lovett.
So how do Green and her cohorts create a show that's aimed at a traditional musical theatre audience while also maintaining the hip and edgy tone of the original book? And what exactly will the die-hard fans — all the Robs and Barrys out there — think of High Fidelity? "Sure, there will be some record store clerks who will protest and say, ‘Over my dead body would I go see that!'" replies Green. "But the thing is that we're writing the musical to show people this world. We're not writing it for the Robs and Barrys. We hope those guys will like it, but when you go to a musical, you go to see a world that you don't know."
In light of her show business legacy, Green confesses that, to her, it was inevitable she would follow in her parents' footsteps, even if mom and dad may have discouraged her at times. "My mother would always say, 'Oh, it's such a hard business. It's going to be so heartbreaking for you.' But they couldn't hide what they prized most — a great sense of humor and use of language. If I did well on a math test, that was OK. But if I wrote a funny poem, they were over the moon. They couldn't hide what their hearts wanted me to be."