INTERVIEW WITH LYRICIST AMANDA GREEN
Education Dramaturg Ted Sod talks with lyricist Amanda Green, whose father, Adolph Green, was a creator of On the Twentieth Century.
Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated; and when did you decide to write for the musical theatre?
Amanda Green: I was born in New York City and grew up in the apartment my mother, Phyllis Newman, still lives in on Central Park West. I went to Brown University, got a BA in Dramatic Literature, and I attended the Circle in the Square actors training program after that. I started to write for the musical theatre after I'd been singing at various cabaret gigs and writing country songs. On a whim, I applied to the BMI musical theatre workshop. As soon as I started writing theatre songs, I thought, oh, of course, this is what I should be doing. I went a round-about way to writing musical theatre songs because, at first, I wanted to act, and then I thought I'd write contemporary, non-theatrical music—maybe subconsciously I thought, don't go there. My father, Adolph Green, and my mother both were notable in the musical theatre world. But as soon as I started writing theatre songs, I felt at home. I realized this is what I know how to do and what I love doing.
TS: How did you get involved with the revival of On the Twentieth Century? Can you describe exactly what your role will be?
AG: Scott Ellis, the director, asked me to come aboard to look at one specific moment in the show—Oscar's “11:00 number,” originally titled “The Legacy.” It's a superb song that is totally in character with Oscar. But Scott was looking to make that moment have more heft, and when I studied it, I agreed the moment could be more emotional and revelatory about Oscar. As it exists, it is hilarious, but essentially a list song. I thought it could be a reckoning with himself about how much he loves and needs Lily—not just for his success on stage, but in his life, and owning his part in why she left. At the same time, it should be funny and, like him, a bit grandiose and myopic. Musically, I toyed with using melodies from several songs in the show, or maybe even using a Cy Coleman trunk song. In the end though, the existing melody to “The Legacy” suited the moment perfectly; as did the brilliant and hilarious lyrics of the song’s introduction. So I kept both of those intact.
TS: Is that difficult, to get into the heads of the original writers, one of whom was your father?
AG: At first, I didn't know if it could be done or if it needed to be done. I love On the Twentieth Century, so I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my God, how can you fix this show?” I really went into it saying, “Let me see if I can come up with something. If not, then not.” Anyway, as I started to write, I asked myself that very same question: what is this going to be like? But Oscar is such a huge, rich character, thanks to my father and his writing partner, Betty Comden, that he is really, really fun to write for. I had a blast working on it.
TS: Do you have any recollections of the original production? You must have been a tween at the time.
AG: Yes, exactly. I was a tween. I remember being out of town one weekend. My brother, Adam, and I were with my dad in Boston. I remember the fun of it. God, I love that show. Who can forget Kevin
8 ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY
Kline and Madeline Kahn and John Cullum? I have vivid memories of that production. The set was so exciting and the train—it was amazing when the steam came out, seeing it at different vantage points—it was all very dazzling.
TS: Do you have any sense of why it's taken so long for the show to be revived?
AG: No. That’s my one-word answer. No, I don't.
TS: Can you talk a bit about Comden and Green and their working relationship from your perspective? What was that like?
AG: They were true partners. Whatever their private talks were about work, they always presented a unified front. They really created one voice together. I think that they were loyal, and they absolutely shared a theatrical mindset and an exquisite sense of humor. They had tremendous fun, intelligence, intellect and understood and loved human foibles and relationships. Theirs was a truly symbiotic partnership.
TS: Were you ever able to watch them work; or was that a private thing of theirs?
AG: It was a private thing. I certainly heard them when they were rehearsing, and I was there at early readings or backers’ auditions. I could hear them all at the piano: Cy Coleman, my father, and Betty doing backers’ auditions for On the Twentieth Century and then later, I remember them singing “Never Met a Man I Didn't Like” from The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue when it was first written. And I know
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