Two-time Tony-nominated lyricist/composer Amanda Green has lots of creative irons in the fire, and she’s turning up the heat.
She’s working on an original musical called Female Troubles, collaborating on a soon-to-be-announced musical with Billy Crystal and Jason Robert Brown, and is kicking off her monthly cabaret series, “AMANDA GREEN AF!* *And Friends (Wait, what did you think it was?),” on Sunday, September 23, at 7:30 PM at Birdland in New York City.
In fact, it was performing in a such a cabaret that first lead her down the path of writing music.
Green grew up in a songwriting home, the daughter of Tony Award-winning actress Phyllis Newman and the late famed lyricist and screenwriter Adolph Green, who had a house in East Hampton (Green and her husband have a place in Springs), but she was never urged to pursue the family business. Still, they were a colorful family, and writing and performing was part of day-to-day life.
“We always wrote each other poems, or sang songs,” Green recalled. “I wrote songs for family occasions. And we told jokes, endless jokes, and limericks. So, all of that was very much rewarded, while they never pushed my brother or me into that career. In fact, they were like, ‘If you can do anything else, do that!’”
Green decided to pursue performing, but after graduating from acting school, work was sparse. Talented singer that she’d always been, she found herself singing in a cabaret.
“At first it was a way that I could work when I wasn’t getting work, and I loved doing it. I loved performing,” she remembered. “Then, I’d written one song with a friend of mine, and I got up and sang that song, and the combination of performing something, and performing something I’d written was really intoxicating to me. I wanted to do more of it.”
She started out writing pop songs and, finding identification and inspiration in Lyle Lovett’s comedic edge, began taking trips to Nashville for several weeks at a time, where she’d compose new work. It wasn’t until she enrolled in the BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop in NYC and wrote her first musical theater song that she really felt her accumulation of musical talent and humor intertwine.
“Obviously, that’s what I grew up with,” she said, “and it’s where I felt I belonged. So, I started from there.”
It was at BMI where she met many of her future collaborators, including Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) with whom she wrote High Fidelity, and with whom she co-wrote Bring It On: The Musical, along with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Originally, Green and Kitt were brought on to write the pop numbers, while Miranda was responsible for the hip-hop tracks.
“We did a draft of that,” Green said of the Bring It On collaboration, “and then we sort of cross-pollinated; Tom and I wrote a bridge in one of Lin’s songs, and then we started collaborating just flat-out. I wrote an intro for one song, and then Lin wrote the body of it, then I wrote some of his things, he wrote some of my things. Anyway, after a while, when we all had a level of trust and we all knew the show we were writing, we were able to collaborate more fluidly, because we all had our eyes on the same prize.”
Past collaborators have also included Trey Anastasio (lead guitarist/vocalist of Phish), with whom she wrote the Tony-nominated musical adaptation of the documentary film Hands on a Hardbody. And each partnership began a new process.
“It’s all different all the time,” she said. “I’ve done lyrics first, music first — usually it’s the idea first. That’s the most important thing — to really know the song you’re writing. And often we find a hook of a song we both agree on, and the composer may go away and write a little bit of something, or I may go away and write a little bit of something, and we take it from there.”
While much of her off-Broadway work has been fully original, her Broadway work has been primarily musical adaptations. It’s difficult for Green to put her finger on what it is about certain non-musical works that call to her — “Please, make me into a musical!” — but when she finds a character she really resonates with, the rest often falls into place.
“I think I just have to love the characters and imagine them singing — imagine a situation where they’re so frustrated, or they’re so happy, or they’re so overwhelmed that they have to sing. I love the idea of the song that I would write for them. That’s what gets me going,” she said.
Green is currently collaborating with Curtis Moore as well as Jennifer Crittenden and Gabrielle Allan (“Veep”) on Female Troubles, an original musical that she described as “kind of like Bridesmaids meets Jane Austen, but about women’s reproductive rights.” The other project which has been a few years in the making is a collaboration with Billy Crystal and Jason Robert Brown, a friend whose work Green has long admired, and writing together has been an exhilarating process for her. The premise of that musical, however, Green is “not at liberty to discuss,” she teased.
As for Green’s other talented friends, she will be joined in “AMANDA GREEN AF!*” by Jenn Colella (Come From Away), who’s been a friend of Green’s for nearly 15 years and sang the first demos for High Fidelity.
“She’s sort of my spirit animal,” Green said of Colella. “She could sing anything. And she’s fearless, and just fantastic.”
Also performing in “AMANDA GREEN AF!*,” which will begin as a bi-monthly series before resuming its monthly slot in the new downstairs theater at Birdland, will be heavy-hitters such as Howard McGillin, Martha Plimpton, Ryann Redmond, Javier Munoz, Mandy Gonzalez, and of course, Green herself, who joked about her one big performing credit.
“I was actually the original Gary Coleman in Avenue Q,” Green explained, laughing, “because the writers, Bobby Lopez and Jeff Marks, were in my class at BMI, and they asked me to play the part, and I did, and I loved it. I did several workshops with them. That’s my claim to fame!”
A performer at heart, Green urges any artists in a rut to make their own opportunities.
“If something’s not happening for you, make something happen,” she said. “Whether it’s an evening of monologues you’ve written for yourself, or whatever. I was sitting at home twiddling my thumbs as an actor, and then I started singing in cabarets, and then writing songs, so anything that keeps you moving forward. Also,” she added, “don’t freak out if it’s not happening right away, because nothing is a straight line. I was 33 when I started writing lyrics, so it can take a while. Nobody has the same path.”