Hands on a Hardbody: Amanda Green on Developing the Musical, Writing with Trey
Phish fans are already familiar with a couple of the songs from the show that Phish has performed [“Summer of 89” which Green co-wrote with Anastasio is not from the musical.] I’d like to ask about those but first, I’m curious if you saw the band perform “Burn That Bridge” or “My Problem Right There”?
Oh my God, yes, that was a bucket moment or whatever they call it. I had a heart attack I was so excited to hear them perform those songs. It was fantastic.
Can you talk a bit about each of the songs? Perhaps share a bit about the songwriting process as well as their context within the show?
Sure. “Burn That Bridge” is an instance where I had a lyric idea and then he quickly had a musical idea. As for Hands on a Hardbody, there may be a little illicit romance happening in the context of the show. That’s all I’ll give away now.
“My Problem Right There,” that was a great case where I had written lyrics before I met Trey and then he came aboard and had a better idea for lyrics. He said, “Write about this, it’s more interesting than that” and I was like, “Oh wow, you’re right.” So I wrote some new lyrics and he wrote this fantastic music and that’s how it came about.
There’s a character in the show and a real person named Ronald and he’s a funny guy. The way he expresses himself is, “Now mosquitoes are no problem but cheetahs that would be my problem right there.” That’s his recurring theme and he gets very exhausted because it’s a marathon contest and the song is sort of him at the end of his rope talking about a mounting series of problems that he has while staying awake and staying on the truck.
A couple precede his involvement several we co-wrote where I might have a verse and he’d say, “Let’s take the chorus here,” some came to be after he came aboard that we worked though together and some I just threw out my music entirely and said, “Please do something with it.” So all scenarios.
Beyond those two is there a song that you look back on with particular pride, where the two of you just nailed it?
There are a few. There’s a song called “Stronger” that is sung by a young Iraqi vet and I had written lyrics. I had a musical idea and I knew where I wanted it to go emotionally and I felt that it started there but it never really went on a musical journey. Then Trey came aboard and now I feel it hits an emotional peak where there’s beautiful music and an emotional journey where I’m like, “Boy that’s great. That’s something I never would have thought of.”
And there’s a song called “God Answered My Prayers.” which is an occasion where I just threw my music out. Before I even asked Trey to come aboard I had this lyric and I always wanted to hand to him but I was like, “No, you’ve got to keep the worlds separate.” But once he came aboard I was like, “Here take this.” You’ve got to see the show, it’s just pure Anastasio.
I’ve seen those photos of Trey and yourself watching rehearsals. At this point, with about two weeks until the production opens, what is your role?
Trey continues to remain hands on as am I. You’re watching the actors perform not only the song but then you see them do it in order and you see a moment where it might be “Do we need that verse? No we don’t, that’s slowing down the storytelling . Anything from the key is not sitting well in the actor’s voice and then we add vocal arrangements or the counter-melody’s not working or we’re missing a moment here. Also, we have someone in the cast who’s a fantastic dancer and he’s singing a song and it was like, “Gee, let’s let that guy dance.” So Trey goes away and writes 16 bars of dance music.
It’s very detailed and exciting. I always like to say the work continues until they say pencils up and you have to stop because the last piece of the puzzle is the audience comes in and nothing tells you more about what’s working and what’s not than the sounds of 500 people laughing or 500 people not laughing. And seeing the show in front of the audience we’ll be making changes if we feel like a moment’s not working or something working and we want more of it .
And are the changes typically that quick, where someone writes 16 bars and they’re in the show the next day?
It’s really fast. In that case I mentioned it to Trey and he called the next morning, “I’ve got something” and he brought it in . We’d given the amount of bars the dancer was dancing and they put it together and it was up that afternoon. Or the director might say this verse needs to be about this and not that and you go away and you write it and you come back the next day with the changes. So it’s exciting. It’s fun and hearing thee great actors and singers singing what you’ve worked on is a very gratifying experience. It’s very exciting.
I’m back East, so I’m going to miss this run in La Jolla. What are the odds that Hand on a Hardbody might open out here?
That would be fantastic but we’re taking it one theatre at a time and seeing it how it goes. Who knows? Right now it’s at the La Jolla Playhouse and I’m thrilled that it’s here.
Final question: have you contemplated the possibility of collaborating with Trey again on another musical down the road?
I can only speak for myself. I’m just having a blast working with Trey and I feel so lucky to be working with him. We’ve talked about it though and I would love it if we worked on another project together.