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Amanda Green takes stock on Broadway

From left, playwright Doug Wright, composer-lyricist Amanda Green

From left, playwright Doug Wright, composer-lyricist Amanda Green and Phish founder Trey Anastasio in New York. The trio have teamed up to create the new Broadway musical "Hands on a Hardbody." (March 11, 2013) Credit: AP

Amanda Green is having quite a year. First came "Bring It On," a new musical based on the popular cheerleader movie, with lyrics by Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Slated for a two-month run last summer, the show was extended an extra three.

Now there's "Hands on a Hardbody," another original musical, opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Thursday. Green wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music (with Phish frontman Trey Anastasio). Based on a documentary, the show depicts a Texas endurance contest in which competitors place their hands on a brand-spankin'-new Nissan pickup -- and wait. Last person standing wins the truck.

Green knows a thing or two about endurance. She comes from hearty show-biz stock--her mom is Tony-winning actress and singer Phyllis Newman; her dad, legendary lyricist-playwright Adolph Green, who with Betty Comden churned out "Singin' in the Rain," "On the Town" and other classics.

Alas, Dad died before his daughter made it to Broadway. When she did (as lyricist for 2006's "High Fidelity"), the show closed after 14 dates.

A Manhattan native, Green summered as a kid in East Hampton, where she later met her future husband (orthopedic surgeon Jeffrey Kaplan). She spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio after a recent performance.

People standing around a truck -- not exactly obvious material ... for a musical.

That's why we loved it. A challenge. Doug Wright, who wrote our book, told me about it, so I watched the documentary. It starts out absurd--funny people, human foibles. By the end, I'd grown to care about each of them--they had so much courage and hope. There wasn't one person I didn't want to go home with that truck.

So the characters are real.

A lot of them. Doug and I met some of them in Texas. The musical itself isn't a documentary--some things we make up. But it was so rich, getting to know them. Now we text, we exchange Christmas gifts ...

Some of your songs have real country flavor.

I always wanted to be the female Lyle Lovett.

Sort of unexpected for a city girl, isn't it?

I'm comfortable with that genre. Y'know ... um ... I don't know why. Of course, this show isn't just country.

I heard some Springsteen-like rock.

And Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Dr. John.

And gospel.

I was trying to get into that at a writer's retreat in Wyoming. I remember being in the shower going, "Hooooo -- hee hee -- hah hah!" People were like -- thump, thump, thump -- "What's going on in there?"

Do you use your husband as a sounding board?

I run lyrics by him all the time. And I have two stepdaughters, Sam and Kate. They're 20 and 17. I love when they come to rehearsals and readings. They're smart -- if they like something, I know it's a win.

When did your parents first hear your songs?

I wrote a song and sang it at an anniversary party. I followed ... Leonard Bernstein, Steve Sondheim, Jule Styne, Isaac Stern on the violin. It was an insane lineup. I was around 18. But I wanted to be an actress. Later, in my early twenties, I sang this song, "Worn Out Sweater," in a cabaret. This guy I was dating composed it. I'd written lyrics. It's the first real song I wrote. And it was the most powerful feeling. I was so connected to it -- singing my words. My parents were proud. I fell in love with songwriting then.

What advice did they give you?

They always told me the business was terrible. My mom's an asset -- she's been through so many shows. During previews, she's like, "Don't worry about it -- this is how it goes ... " I'd love to have my dad around to give me advice ... but ... . If I made my dad laugh reading him a lyric of mine, that was a score for me.

Did you see him actually writing?

He and Betty wrote at our house or hers. But the door was closed. All I can tell you is what they ate. They snacked well.

What didn't your parents tell you ... that you learned on your own?

How fulfilling it is to do what you want to do. But I saw it. I saw them enjoy their work. And my dad -- he was a real role model, because he performed his own stuff all the time. That's how I started, in cabarets. I never would've thought to do that if it weren't for him. That joy I saw ... I felt it, too.

A little shared moment with your dad.

Yeah! I could finally go, "Ohhh, this is what it felt like for him."


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