By Ron Fassler
Amanda Green is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is she a Tony nominated composer-lyricist; an actress; a writer and a song stylist, but she also possesses the stage presence of a Mrs. Maisel. In her bi-monthly show at Birdland Sunday night, she entertained a very appreciative audience with songs and stories from her eclectic career (so far), accompanied by a bunch of friends, who just happen to be some of Broadway’s best. When you have the likes of Jenn Colella (Tony nominated for Come from Away), Jason Robert Brown (Tony winner for Parade), Howard McGillin (Broadway’s longest playing Phantom), Javier Munoz (Hamilton), Ryann Redmond (Bring it On) and Mandy Gonzalez (Hamilton), great things are bound to happen on stage.
A native New Yorker, born and raised on the Upper West Side, Amanda Green is the child of Broadway’s Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman. Although mostly known as the book writer and lyricist of some of the greatest musicals ever produced (from On the Town to On the 20th Century), Adolph Green, an actor and a brilliant ham when the occasion suited it, and Phyllis Newman, an actress of enormous grace and style, have happily contributed to their daughter’s winning stage presence. These qualities, in tandem with her dad’s penchant for broad antics, reminded me of when, back in 1977, I delighted in the specialty show A Party with Comden and Green, that the pair revived on Broadway at the long-gone Morosco Theatre. At Birdland last night, I felt there was much to compare with that show in terms of its atmosphere of merry abandon, especially with Green opening the night with a song she wrote that came from one of her father’s great one liners, supposedly based on something his aunt would say when in a group of family and friends: “I would rather be with you than with the best people!”
For a solid hour, the songs performed by Green’s friends (and in one instance, friend and collaborator of a new musical, Jason Robert Brown) were, in her own words, “songs I’ve done, songs I’m working on … and even stuff I didn’t write.” But with the overwhelming majority being from her own pen, it gave proof positive to her substantial talents. Colella scored with a mighty number that according to my notes is most probably titled “I’m Getting My Shit Together,” and later joined forces with Mandy Gonzalez for the standout power-ballad, “A Woman Knows.” Howard McGillan lent his beautiful voice to “Laura,” a song from High Fidelity, the Broadway musical Green wrote with Pulitzer and Tony Award winner, Tom Kitt. And the evening’s one group number was movingly performed by Colella, Gonzalez, McGillin, Munoz, Reynolds and Green herself, even with most everyone reading off sheet music, in a rendition of “If I Had a Truck,” from the musical Hands on a Hardbody, that Green composed with Trey Anastasio.
The one song from a show we haven’t seen or heard yet, is one which Green is working on with Jason Robert Brown, and it seems awfully promising. Along with the original screenwriters Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Billy Crystal, Brown and Green are co-writing a Broadway musical version of Crystal’s 1992 comedy Mr. Saturday Night, about a relentlessly pushy standup comic’s life in show business. What with all Ms. Green knows about a life in the arena, this is bound to contain not only the required good humor she has in abundance, but the reality (as well as the pain) behind the jokes.
With a night like this one at Birdland, a persuasive argument was made that even with such an impressive body of work already behind her, Amanda Green’s best work may be yet to come.
AMANDA GREEN AF ** And Friends (Wait, what did you think it was?)
Birdland Jazz Club, 315 West 44th Street, NYC bi-monthly (next show November 19th)