About the author:
To say that Amanda Green was born for Broadway isn’t much of an overstatement: As the daughter of legendary composer Adolph Green and Tony-winning actress Phyllis Newman, she grew up in a home steeped in stage history. But it took Green a few years to find her calling as a musical theater composer and lyricist after detours in acting, country music songwriting and crafting revues for herself and others. Joining forces with composer Tom Kitt, she wrote the lyrics for the fondly remembered (if short-lived) High Fidelity, and she and Kitt then teamed up with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeff Whitty to create Bring It On: The Musical. Now Green is entering a magical Broadway season, with both the Main Stem premiere of Bring It On and the forthcoming Broadway bow of Hands on a Hardbody, featuring lyrics by Green, music by Green and Phish’s Trey Anastasio and a book by Doug Wright. Below, she writes about her Bring It On experience, including the excitement of helping shepherd 30 talented young performers to their Broadway debuts.
When I first heard about Bring It On: The Musical, I was dying to do it immediately for five reasons: Andy Blankenbuehler, Tom Kitt, Alex Lacamoire, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeff Whitty. I hadn’t seen any of the Bring It On films and, being a Manhattan girl born and raised, the world of cheerleading was foreign to me, but the chance to work with this ridiculously talented team was a no-brainer. Tom, Alex and I had not worked together since our beloved but short-lived High Fidelity, and I was a huge fan of Andy, Lin and Jeff. (Interesting sidebar: I did work with Jeff as an actor, when I played “Gary Coleman” at an early workshop of Avenue Q at the ONeill Theatre Center!)
So, I watched the original film, which I loved. The fact that Jeff was crafting a new and original story made the project even more enticing.
My collaborators and I went on a crash course to learn about the world of cheerleading. We attended competitions, read books and articles and watched countless episodes of Cheerleader Nation. Over the past four years of getting to know cheerleaders and observing their incredible athleticism, skill, fearlessness and dedication, my respect for them has grown in leaps and herkies. And the world of cheerleading is one of high stakes, huge emotional highs and lows, rewards and sacrifices—sounds like a musical, right?
From the beginning, we worked as a team, hashing out the show. But the division of labor for the songs was clear: Lin was assigned certain songs, Tom and I others. We soon found an opportunity for the three of us to collaborate. Lin set up the song and there was a pocket where Tom and I would supply the words and music. Tom found a way to expand on Lin’s musical themes, and I supplied the lyric. We wrote another song much in the same way. The collaboration deepened when the three of us actually wrote a song together from scratch, which, alas, was cut on the road to Broadway. But we have gone on to collaborate on several others in the show.
Being a collaborator is both challenging and immensely rewarding. You have to learn when to step aside and let the person who has the ball run with it. Sometimes you’re able to provide just an assist, sometimes a three pointer, and sometimes you make the winning shot. As long as you’re contributing, you’re a valuable player in the game.
We like to joke that we are currently presenting version 5.67 of Bring It On: The Musical. Over the past three years, we have had the unique opportunity of opening and trying out several times, and each production has taught us more about the show. Many songs, moments and characters (some beloved, others gladly jettisoned) have fallen by the wayside, and new ones taken their place.
From when we first opened in Atlanta at the Alliance Theater, to launching the national tour in October 2011, to being in previews on Broadway (where it was by no means certain we would end up!), I would say the show has changed 40% to 50%. And in that time, Tom, Lin, Jeff, Andy, Alex and I have truly become collaborators.
The talents and personalities of our remarkable young cast have helped shape the roles and the material we write for them. About one third of the cast is made up of top-flight cheerleaders and athletes who had never performed in a musical. Over the course of the show’s evolution, they have all learned to sing and act with aplomb. The rest of the cast, triple threats all, have become quadruple threats—learning to belt a high D while flipping and balancing 20 feet in the air. Absolutely no one in this cast, crew or team, has been operating in his or her comfort zone.
At our first preview, 30 of our 36 cast members made their Broadway debuts! It is a privilege and joy to watch this insanely talented young company bring it every day in rehearsals and then in performances at night. After our gypsy run-through, I received an e-mail from a friend of mine who is 21, African-American, gay and, even at his tender age, a seasoned theater pro. He said he had never felt so understood by a musical before. That is the highest praise I can think of. I know audiences will be thrilled by the brilliant choreography and the high-flying, jaw-dropping physical pyrotechnics on display, and will laugh their badonkadonks off. But I also hope that people of all ages will feel understood by Bring It On.