Cameron Crowe Fuels ’70s Rock Fandom on Broadway – The Hollywood Reporter

Becoming an avid rock fan in the 1970s was a job that required time and dedication. Go ahead, roll your eyes and whine “OK boomer,” but there is no internet to call for performance clips, no music streaming service, no dedicated music video channel. There are listening stations in record stores, where crowds gather on the day a new album is expected to be released; there is a radio station, which transmits excitement whenever a favorite song plays; and if you’re lucky, there are tours that stop at or near your hometown.

Friends record collections are shared gifts, like small loan libraries. Weekly display of hits on leaderboards like American Bandstand or Soul train United States, Top of Pops in the UK or Countdown in Australia is television for teenage music aficionados.

Fandom without fingertip access these days is a harder pursuit, often a frustrating waiting game punctuated by sparks of fun that make you feel like part of a cult sacred. That has made the great music journalists famous intellectuals.

Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost famous – his best and most personal film – captures those tough times through semi-autobiographical recollection of his own eye-opening experience as a teen writer . In his Oscar-winning original screenplay, the director’s 15-year-old head, William Miller, received a feature assignment for Rolling Stone, biography of the fictional rock band Stillwater. The film is a light-hearted coming-of-age drama filled with frustration, moral education and heartbreak, buoyed by the shimmering sweetness of memory and the uplifting power of music.

Does it need to be a stage musical? Can take a bath. But one thing the show properly flaunts, like the movie made it, is the infectious energy of rock ‘n’ roll at a transitional time – 1973 – when the raw, rebellious spirit of great rock is giving way to gloss, moreover the commercialized sound of mass-consumption superstars. For many famous bands and solo artists, that year was an artistic pinnacle they will never be able to match. That gives Crowe’s memoirs, in both incarnations, a bittersweet juxtaposition of simultaneous discovery and loss.

The other big plus that the musical has given it is its casting. In the film, the lead roles of William and Penny Lane – the ethereal goddess hovering between a tour bus and an endless series of hotels and concert venues as if lifted by music – are top notch, respectively. high in the careers of Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson. .

As the eyes with which we see the whole story, William is all-important and newcomer Casey Like makes for an incredibly engaging guide. He balances the pretentiousness needed to get a foot in the stadium door with the humility of an inexperienced kid who can barely believe he’s living his dream. At least until it disappears. He’s also a powerful singer, with an amazingly loud, versatile voice that can adapt to many styles.

Playing Penny, a “retired” band surrounded by a constellation of “Band-Aids” (Julia Cassandra, Katie Ladner, Jana Djenne Jackson) traveling with Stillwater, Solea Pfeiffer made her incandescent Broadway debut, doing David Zinn’s incredible character rocking of Penny’s signature shearling jacket, not to mention a pair of killer crochet panties. On the surface, she creates a character that is true to the movie stereotype but with more self-determination, vulnerable to romantic pain but no one an ambiguous toy, even if she intentionally entered the ocean of hurt.

Pfeiffer received two of the best new songs from lyricist Tom Kitt for the show, a longing contemplation of a new beginning in the future, “Morocco” and the duet “The Night- Time Sky’s Got Nothing on You”, in which Penny and married Stillwater lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Chris Wood) exchange lists of qualities that fuel their mutual infatuation. But Pfeiffer’s dreamy interpretation of Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” is so endearing, it’s one of the few moments that makes me almost wish the show were an auto musical.

Kitt’s “1973” is a well-polished prologue that portrays William’s frustration as an outsider suffocated by his overprotective widowed mother Elaine (Anika Larsen) and learns that her wonderful sister His Anita (Emily Schultheis) is quitting because of her. freedom.

More often, however, new songs are released. When you use worker-like Broadway tunes with templates by Led Zeppelin, T. Rex, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, Joni Mitchell and others, it probably makes you want more. actual things. But Kitt, the main creator on American idiot and Tooth dropsis a man who deftly weaves stones into musical stories, and thanks to his skillful association with orchestras and orchestras – as well as the beautiful orchestral harmonies – all sounds seamless.

The jarring disappointment for me is one of the movie’s key moments – Elton John’s “Little Dancer,” a poignantly spontaneous song to break a tense moment on the Stillwater tour bus . Positioned as Closer Me Screen, it started off great when the boys were singing, but then the Band-Aids stepped in and hit it with intrusive melisma. That gimmicky style of address has been inevitable since the ’80s, but it feels out of place here and takes me out of the painfully conjured scene of the musical. Please, just sing the song, girls, drop the makeup; it can’t American Idol.

One of Crowe’s strengths as a writer is his ability to shape complex characters into a story, not just through it. That applies not only to William and Penny and soul spoiler Russell (A+ hair and mustache), but also to Elaine, whose “Don’t do drugs” personality is played for humor, though not because of her love for her son.

While Larsen sticks to the lines of Frances McDormand in the film, she brings her own depth to the role in two great character-defining songs. “Elaine’s Lecture” is melancholy but enjoyable, punctuated by the chorus “Rock stars have kidnapped my son,” is a moving admission of how her initial atmosphere about Becoming a parent has turned to gnawing concern for their child in a world of erroneous priorities. And “Listen to Me” is a clever musicalization of the phone call in which the creepy Elaine applies the law to Russell.

Stillwater’s motivations are evident, especially in the festering frustration of being lead singer Jeff Bebe (Drew Gehling, animated but humorous), who uncomfortably realizes that Russell has a natural charisma. is considered the real star of the band. Their relationship deteriorated further and was strained by the demands of their growing popularity following the hit song “Fever Dog” (a spot pastiche co-written by Crowe and his then-wife Nancy Wilson). composed for the film) brought William meat for him Rolling Stone feature. That of course causes conflict, although his unrequited love for Penny and her mistreatment by Russell has caused William to feel a growing sense of insecurity.

The show’s deep affection for its era is contagious, which helps the press to point out some of its weaknesses. But Crowe undermines the authenticity of his nostalgia with a few nods to the future.

Explaining why he didn’t call, William told his mother, “It’s not like you can take your phone with you. And Stillwater’s effective new manager (Jakeim Hart), tasked by the record label to topple the band’s old friend (Gerard Canonico), underscores their momentary moment by warning that one day somehow fans will find a way to download free music “from a spaceship in the sky,” also pointing to the possibility that Mick Jagger is still trying to be a rock star at 50. The show is a picture heartfelt love letter to the ’70s; why add unruly jokes to make contemporary audiences feel above it?

One wise choice Crowe made was to expand the role of mentor to William, legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Rob Colletti), turning him into a one-man Greek choir reappearing periodically to advise protecting his young and lamenting the mud and intestines being drained from rock ‘N Roll music. It was assumed that William would break the first cardinal rule Lester taught him: “Don’t make friends with rock stars.” Just like Penny ignores her own credo: “No attachments, no boundaries.”

British director Jeremy Herrin – chosen by Crowe based on the staging of the experiential drama about hyperkinetic addiction, People, Places & Things – keep things flowing in an all-encompassing story while always maintaining its primary focus on close relationships. Derek McLane’s sets are framed by backstage scaffolding, with scene changes resembling passersby loading gear for each new gig; His video elements include a rear wall map of the United States, which regularly appears to show the progress of the Stillwater tour, from San Diego to New York.

The musical can hardly replace anyone’s love for the film. But in the abundance of cynical screen-to-stage adaptations that have become an epidemic on Broadway over the past 20 years, it’s at least something that comes from the heart. For anyone who spent his or her youth obsessing over great music and believing that rock stars are rock stars, Almost famous will bring a great recognition. Cross the Quaaludes.

Venue: Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, New York
Cast: Casey Like, Solea Pfeiffer, Chris Wood, Anika Larsen, Drew Gehling, Rob Colletti, Emily Schultheis, Daniel Sovich, Van Hughes, Julia Cassandra, Katie Ladner, Jana Djenne Jackson, Matt Bittner, Brandon Contreras, Gerard Canonico, Matthew C . Yee, Chad Burris, Jakeim Hart, Libby Winters
Book and lyrics: Cameron Crowe
Music and lyrics: Tom Kitt
Directed by: Jeremy Herrin
Design and video: Derek McLane
Costume designer: David Zinn
Lighting Designer: Natasha Katz
Sound Designer: Peter Hylenski
Vocal Designer: Annmarie Milazzo
Staging and Arrangement: Tom Kitt
Music Director and Supervisor: Bryan Perri
Choreographer: Sarah O’Gleby
Executive Producers: Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Jillian Robbins, Devin Keudell
Presented by Lia Vollack, Michael Cassel, Joey Parnes

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