September 6, 2011
C’mon, Amanda Green, ‘Bring It On’
At one point in “Bring It On: The Musical,” inspired by the rival cheerleading film of the same name, Bridget, the team’s chubby mascot, gets some moxie from a pep talk about a boy she likes.
“Why walk around like you’re made of asbestos,” a friend sings, “when [he] loves your eyes, your thighs, and your breast-is?”
The lyricist with the audacity to rhyme asbestos with breast-is is Amanda Green, who penned the show’s songs with Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights”) and composer Tom Kitt (Pulitzer Prize winner for “Next to Normal”). Their show will arrive at the Ahmanson Theatre on Nov. 11.
The daughter of legendary Broadway lyricist Adolph Green, Amanda Green has a resume that highlights her wicked wit. She earned a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle nomination for her first musical, “Up the Creek Without a Paddle,” which she describes, alternately, as “a West Coast version of ‘Sex and the City,’ ” and “basically a gynecological exam set to music.” She recalled that her late father, who shared her bawdy sense of humor, was particularly tickled by a ditty from that 2000 show, which she describes as “a filthy, unprintable song.”
Then there was the musical version of the cult film “High Fidelity,” which Green collaborated on with Kitt, her classmate from the famed BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop; and “For the Love of Tiffany: A Wifetime Original Musical,” which she recounts as a “wild romp that skewered Lifetime TV movies, in which I also acted, playing a triple amputee German housekeeper with a feather duster in my stump.”
When director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler invited Green to work on “Bring It On,” however, she didn’t set out to parody the pompom set. “I wanted to have fun with this world, but I wasn’t interested in clichés,” she said.
Green began by rewatching the 2000 film, which stars Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku. With book writer Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”) and the other collaborators, she then helped to create an entirely new story and characters for the show.
“Bring It On: The Musical” evolved into the story of Campbell, the captain of a cheerleading squad at a lily-white school who is determined to bring her team to victory at a national competition. Her classmates include Bridget, who wears the team’s ungainly parrot-mascot costume; Skylar, aka “Bitter Bitch Barbie,” who has a sidekick named Kylar; and Eva, Campbell’s worshipful admirer, who may or may not be reminiscent of the duplicitous villainess in “All About Eve.”
But then Campbell is transferred to a more urban school that doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad; she struggles to fit in and to convince the queen bee of the hip-hop dance crew to compete against her old team. Life lessons and acrobatics ensue; when “Bring It On” premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in early 2011, critics described the cheerleading numbers as almost epically athletic.
“I am blown away by Amanda’s work, and it’s been a tremendous experience getting to work with her again,” said Kitt, who asked Green to collaborate with him on “High Fidelity” after meeting her at BMI. “When I first met her, I didn’t know right away that she was the daughter of Adolph Green. She does have this very original and unique talent for lyric writing — this incredibly witty voice mixed with a real sense of craft.
“The worlds of competitive cheerleading and high school are ripe for hilarious and poignant moments, and Amanda’s lyrics are dead on in terms of paying tribute to and also celebrating and laughing at the world of adolescents,” Kitt added of “Bring It On.” “The way Amanda puts things we all feel into unexpected comic writing makes the laugh even bigger, because the audience doesn’t see it coming.”
Green, who is in her 40s, had no cheerleading experience to draw upon when she began working on the show two years ago. While growing up on New York’s Upper West Side, she attended the prestigious High School of Performing Arts — which she said was really like the school in the film, “Fame,” minus the dancing atop taxis — before transferring to a private school her sophomore year. “There wasn’t even a football team, never mind a cheerleading squad,” Green said. “That just wasn’t part of my idiom.”
For “Bring It On,” she didn’t want to draw upon the popular-culture image of “the cheerleader as a bimbo, and ‘rah-rah,’ stuck up and vain,” she said. “I really wanted to delve into their world and understand who they are.”
To this end, Green read books about the subject, interviewed cheerleaders and attended their competitions. “What I found was that they are these incredible athletes, and incredibly dedicated; it’s a very hard sport and what they do is very admirable,” she said. “So I approached it like we were going to have fun with this world, but not from the outside in.”
As Green began writing lyrics for the show’s approximately 23 songs, which merge pop and hip-hop with more traditional musical theater sounds, she found that “each character had their own voice. As a writer, I love people who have an odd way of speaking or a particular rhythm or vocabulary, so I try to write for each character and how they would express themselves.”
The fictional Campbell is sure of herself, but not without some undercurrents of insecurity, while Skylar both embodies and lampoons stereotypes. “She’s almost nice in her complete bitchiness, because she has such a commitment to it,” Green said. “It’s expressed in lyrics just because she is so unapologetic and gleeful about it.”
In one song, Skylar recalls her own experiences of trying out for the cheerleading squad: “I felt so belittled — man, they put me on the rack. And now that I’m a senior, this is my chance to give back! I’ll uphold the great tradition with these young lives on my watch. Let’s set the stage, I’ve come of age, to be a raging, castrating bee-yotch!”
Green, who laughs easily in a phone conversation from her home on the Upper West Side, has something of a musical theater pedigree. Her father, the son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, and his longtime collaborator, Betty Comden, created some of Hollywood and Broadway’s greatest hits, writing lyrics for such musicals as “On the Town” and “Billion Dollar Baby,” as well as screenplays and songs for movies like “Singin’ in the Rain.” He met Amanda’s mother, the Tony-winning actress Phyllis Newman, when she understudied for Judy Holliday in his musical “Bells Are Ringing.” Amanda Green recalls her father’s story about how Jule Styne, after a creative argument, stormed out of the room, then stormed back in, naked and dancing a jig.
The “Bring It On” collaboration was somewhat more cordial, she quipped. The production, however, is itself facing a complaint, filed in early August by the Writers Guild of America, accusing the movie’s producers of exploiting the rights of the film’s screenwriter, Jessica Bendinger, by producing a new musical based on the story, according to The New York Times. In a statement, a spokesperson for the show said, “As a policy, the producers of ‘Bring It On: The Musical’ will not comment on legal matters. The national tour will begin [preview] performances in Los Angeles on Oct. 30, 2011 as scheduled.” A WGA spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.
For her part, Green said she had no information about the issue.
Talking of her heritage, she said, “Judaism was always part of our cultural heritage; we were always very proud of that,” she said, adding that her childhood home was also a meeting place for luminaries such as Styne, Cy Coleman and Leonard Bernstein, who took turns serenading one another at the piano. When she performed the starring role of Maria in a summer-camp production of Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” the maestro himself sent her a congratulatory opening-night telegram.
Green studied theater and English at Brown University and then attended the Circle in the Square Theatre School, initially aspiring to become a performer rather than a lyricist. She explained, “You don’t compete with your parents, without even consciously saying, ‘I’m not going to do what they do.’ “ And so she wrote her own songs and sang in cabarets—and even went to Nashville to write country music, “because I always had an offbeat sense of humor that didn’t lend itself to straight pop songs,” she said. “But when I enrolled in the BMI musical theater workshop, that’s where it clicked for me. I was like, ‘This is where I belong.’ I just understood the genre, because I grew up with it; I get it, I love it, and I can be as eccentric as I want to be, as long as it serves the character.”
For more information, please visit centertheatregroup.org.