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.”

Amanda Green, co-lyricist of “Bring It On: The Musical.”

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.

Texas two-step: Pre-med student becomes NFL squad’s first Jewish cheerleader

It’s a safe bet to assume that there are more Jewish doctors than NFL cheerleaders.

Michelle Lewis, 21, is on the way to becoming both.

Lewis, a native of Bellaire, Texas, already has passed the first test—she was chosen for the Houston Texans cheerleaders, making the final cut from a field of more than 500 women who tried out in April.

Her next challenge soon will follow, as the pre-med student wraps up her four-year degree at St. Thomas University next year before taking the medical boards and applying to medical schools.

Lewis is the only known Jewish cheerleader in team history, according to Texans cheerleading programs manager Alto Gary, and definitely the first who hopes to be delivering babies as an obstetrician/gynecologist after she retires her pompoms.

“It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point—it’s very challenging, both school and making the Texans,” Lewis said. “I’m definitely glad to represent the Jews on the team. I’m enjoying every moment of it.”

Except for perhaps that moment when she was sitting at Texans headquarters anxiously waiting for her number to be called as the final team of 29 girls was announced.

“It was real nerve-racking because it came down to that final moment,” Lewis said. “I had mentally prepared for a year and then physically prepared for several months.

She added, “I had my parents waiting out in the parking lot in case I didn’t make it.”

Lewis didn’t have to wait long: Her No. 32 was the sixth number called as the announcements were made live on Texans TV.

“Michelle really gained my attention with her determination and poise,” Gary said. “She is a beautiful person inside and out and has been a
great addition to the team. I’m excited for her.”

Lewis was excited, too, but had to keep temper some of her emotions as she was surrounded by those who tried out but did not make the squad.

“I let out a little shriek, but I couldn’t really celebrate too much right there,” Lewis said. “I felt my eyes water up, but I didn’t really cry.”

Keeping that even keel could pay off for Lewis in the medical field, something she really is looking forward to.

“I want to be an OB/GYN because I feel like that’s the one field in medicine that a doctor can experience it all and more,” Lewis said. “You can experience the physician aspect of medicine when performing annual woman wellness exams. You can work with diseases and viruses if faced with an STD patient. And you can also perform surgery.

“And on top of all of that, you get to deliver babies—the one thing that no other field of medicine enables you to do.”

While Lewis finishes up her pre-med requirements, she will take advantage of her opportunity with the Texans. It is something she has been building toward her entire life.

While she didn’t really decide on wanting to be a doctor until she entered college three years ago, Lewis has known since she was little that she wanted to be a dancer.

In the first grade she took ballet and tap classes at the local JCC, as well as piano lessons and gymnastics.

“In third grade I was falling off the balance beam, and I had to pick one—so I picked dance and really stuck with it,” she said.

Together with Lewis all the way has been her twin sister, Rachel, who also is into dancing—more on the ballet side—and also hopes to apply to medical school. Rachel was interested in trying out for the Texans as well, but ended up keeping her focus on school.

“It’s always great to have that person there, your best friend, for support,” Lewis said. “She helps me out in school and we are just there for each other.”

At Bellaire High School, Lewis was vice president of the dance company and was a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating from Bellaire in 2007, however, there was a bit of a void in her life.

“Once I entered St. Thomas, all of that went away,” Lewis said. “They don’t have a dance team and the cheerleading squad isn’t as big. So my mom said, ‘You live in Houston. You can try out for the Texans.’ And I said, ‘This is the year I’m going to do it.’ ”

So began the intense process of trying to make the team. After three rounds, the field of competitors was cut to 50.

“It takes a lot of work to be able to get in shape to do this,” Lewis said. “The girls that woke up that morning and decided to try out are the ones that got cut in round one.”

To stay in shape, Lewis does several intense training regimens, including a cross-fit program and a boot camp. She has changed her diet to stay in shape. And before every performance is two hours of hair and make-up.

“I really have no social life,” Lewis said. “This is my life. If I’m not doing school stuff, I’m doing Texans stuff. If I’m not stressing about school, I’m stressing about the Texans.”

“But this is the greatest opportunity in the dance world; it is elite. I just wanted to go for the best—NFL, pro. And now I can relax a little bit because I’m in.”

Besides the practice and dancing at games, each cheerleader is required to make 40 appearances a year on behalf of the team at various functions. The cheerleaders are paid—minimum wage and two season tickets, which Lewis already has promised to her parents.

“No one does it for the money, for sure,” Lewis said. “But it’s really awesome to see the kids look up to you. A little girl at an appearance the other day asked me my name, and she went and painted a T-shirt for me and gave it to me. It was very sweet. The kids look up to you and their eyes are really bright. It’s just a really good feeling.”

So which is going to be more exciting, cheering and dancing in front of nearly 100,000 fans on Sunday afternoons or delivering babies as a doctor?

“That first game is going to be a huge adrenaline rush, for sure,” Lewis said. “I’ll be soaking it all up. It will definitely be a rush, which I’m looking forward to.

“But delivering babies is the one thing I look forward to most because you get to literally bring life into the world. I’d be performing a mitzvah by delivering a couple’s baby, and I would also be fulfilling the final part of that couple’s blessing from God when He enabled them to conceive a child.”

And who wouldn’t cheer for something like that?