Education Dramaturg Ted Sod interviews lyricist Amanda Green about 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 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 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: 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.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green
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 what they ate when they were working. They'd go over to the kitchen and come back with a tray of soup and lots of matzo and things like that. They liked to snack to a lot. I could tell you what they snacked on when they wrote.
TS: Do you personally relate to any of the characters in On the Twentieth Century? If so, which one and why?
AG: I think one of the reasons why it's such a beloved musical is because of these characters they’ve created with these huge theatrical egos. I can relate to all of them in different ways. Actually, they remind me of my father. Oscar reminds me of my dad because I can hear him singing “I Rise Again,” which he loved. The show makes you love theatre people because of their egos, vanity, and fun, and their undeniable love of the theatre. That's why the show is so much fun; it obviously loves the world of the theatre and it pokes fun at it, too. You love the characters even as you see them scheming and trying to put one over on each other. It makes you fall in love with theatre people even with all their flaws.
TS: Do you see it as a love story between Oscar and Lily?
AG: I do. I do. If they have a true love, it is each other, absolutely.
TS: I was wondering if you would share what other projects you're working on currently?
AG: 2014 has been the year of my dad and Betty. I just finished doing Peter Pan Live, which was really fun. I wrote a few additional songs using Jule Styne's music and starting with the base of the songs that he wrote with my dad and Betty to create some new song moments for Captain Hook, Wendy, Mrs. Darling, and Peter. That was very exciting. Again, another outsized character that reminds me of my dad, Captain Hook. I just started working on a new musical I am very excited about.
TS: Is there a question you wish I had asked but didn’t?
AG: I just think that people today will enjoy On the Twentieth Century as much as, if not more than, when it first came out. It's truly a fantastic musical. It's so funny and smart, and you fall in love with these characters. I love the operetta style of it. And I'm so excited to have Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher and the rest of this great cast be part of the first Broadway revival.
On the Twentieth Century is now in previews at the American Airlines Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.
Related Categories: 2014-2015 Season
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