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High originality

Tom Kitt and Amanda Green must have known that one question in particular was going to come up sooner or later.

They couldn't write the music and lyrics for a stage adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and not expect to be asked: What are your Top Five Albums of All Time?

Kitt is ready for it: the Beatles' Abbey Road, Billy Joel's Songs in the Attic, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, Radiohead's The Bends and Prince's The Hits. He also wants to sneak in a sixth, U2's The Joshua Tree.

Green, a little flustered, offers: something by Lyle Lovett, Paul McCartney's Ram, something by Carole King and the Clash's London Calling. "There would also have to be a Beatles," she says.

Kitt, 32, and Green, 41, may be feeling under the microscope these days as they tackle Hornby's well-loved portrait of Rob, a slacker record store owner who obsessively makes top five lists for everything and is hopeless in matters of the heart.

Telling a story in song

Their stage version of High Fidelity, which opens on Broadway tonight, is true to the 1995 book and uses their original music. The film adaptation in 2000 starring John Cusack had a sound track crammed with the likes of Bob Dylan, Stereolab and the Kinks.

"We are telling a story," says Green, the lyricist. "We are not putting on a rock concert. If we wanted to put on a rock concert, we would use all those songs and we would not be on Broadway."

Kitt, the composer, came up with the idea of turning Hornby's book into a rock musical before the movie came out. The Columbia University graduate read the book during trips to New Jersey to record an album with his band, the Tom Kitt Band.

"I sort of thought of Nick Hornby as the quintessential singer-songwriter," he says. "Everything that he states about love and relationships and life in that book is something that a singer-songwriter would die to come up with on their own.

"The theatrical device I thought of was, 'What if Rob expresses himself through the music that he loves? What if every time he has an emotion, every time he has a feeling, he sings it in a style of pop music that he would express?' "

Book lends itself to lyrics

Kitt floated the idea with Green, whom he had befriended while they were attending the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop, a program for composers, lyricists and librettists.

"At first I said, 'Ha,' " Green says. "And then I reopened the book, and the first lines were 'My desert island, all-time, top five breakups. . . .' I thought, 'That's a song.' "

Green should know. Her father is the late Broadway lyricist Adolph Green, who collaborated with Betty Comden on such hits as On the Town, Wonderful Town and Bells Are Ringing.

The score caroms through musical styles, from the old-school R&B of She Goes to the soft duet I Slept With Someone (Who Handled Kurt Cobain's Intervention).

The show does have the blessing of Hornby.

"He has been just like an angel," Green says. "He's asked nothing. He's made no demands or try to hint or try to guess where we're going. He just said, right from the beginning, 'Get me two seats for opening night.' "