Some of the most memorable moments ever filmed, from Tom Cruise gasping in “Jerry Maguire,” to John Cusack’s boom box in “Say Anything,” have come from writer-director Cameron Crowe. But people tell him that the one they really identify with is this one:
William Miller: “I have to go home.”
Penny Lane: “You ARE home.”
“Almost Famous” of the 2000s is his story. He was actually the teenager who left home to cover rock ‘n’ roll, and Frances McDormand’s character was based on his real mother, Alice.
The film was not an immediate success. But it spilled over into house rentals, and for Crowe – who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay – it was one of the high points of his career. Upon accepting his Oscar, he described the film as “a love letter to music and to my family”.
And now, 22 years later, that love letter is read over eight times a week. “Almost Famous,” the musical, opened on Broadway last week: true to the movie, and more.
Crowe said, “If you want to tell the story properly, it’s a personal story, you have to get personal.”
“Even if it’s painful?” asked correspondent Tracy Smith.
Crowe grew up in San Diego and for a time lived with her mother and sister in a basement apartment. He visited with Smith; he had not been there for 50 years. “Oh, man, wow. I want to start listening to Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Black Sabbath. I can feel it coming! Holy mackerel. It really feels like home.”
The kitchen was tiny. “Yes, the vast expanse,” he said. “But that’s fine, because my mother wasn’t a good cook.”
But Alice Crowe was a college professor and she had specific ideas about what her children were learning. And rock music was off the list. “She just felt like rock ‘n’ roll was going to destroy brain cells,” Crowe said.
But their apartment was just down the hill from the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, and she was taking him there to see Shakespeare. “Made me leave. Asked!” he said.
He would thank her later.
Much like the kid in his movie, young Cameron started writing for rock magazines – Creem, Rolling Stone – and eventually graduated to screenwriting and directing. Mom was proud, of course, but she wanted him to write a musical based on “Almost Famous.” In time he did, and in 2019 he was ready to stage it – where else? – at the Old Globe. But just days before the very first preview, Ms Crowe, who was 90, had a bad fall and fell into a coma.
Anika Larson, who plays Alice Crowe on the show, asked Cameron to let her go to Alice’s bedside.
“They say people in a coma can hear, so he took me to the hospital, I held his hand, introduced myself to her, sang three songs for her,” Larson said. . “I thought if she couldn’t come to the show, we would bring the show to her. And he brought me back, we did our first dress rehearsal that night, and she died that night.”
Cameron said: ‘The first hearings came right after we lost her. And, you know, I felt her spirit every night. I feel it here now. This story.’ And we did.”
Still, opening night in San Diego was a triumph. Joni Mitchell was in the crowd and the party was in the air.
Crowe recalled, “They were like, ‘So you gonna go to Broadway? And I’m like, ‘You know, we have tonight. People really loved it. And Joni Mitchell loved it. She actually thought it was better than the movie. If nothing happens, I’m fine! “”
But in the end, he couldn’t resist the chance to see his mother’s dream come true, and the actors packed their bags for Broadway. And now, after a three-year pandemic delay, it’s all happening.
Broadway composer Tom Kitt has penned a score that feels both familiar and completely new. And actress Solea Pfeiffer, who plays Penny Lane (the role made famous by Kate Hudson), says putting on her character’s coat is addictive.
“One thing that really excites me is that everyone could see themselves in Kate Hudson,” Pfeiffer said. “And now, as a woman of color stepping into this role, little girls like me can see themselves in this role. I feel like the door is opening just enough.”
But beyond the music, actors, and Broadway lights, it’s really about family and a dream finally come true.
Smith asked Crowe, “How does it feel to watch your story come to life night after night?”
“Sometimes it rubs deep, and sometimes it kind of opens up raw memories,” he replied. “But to see your own life up there, sort of with your veins open, you know, it’s overwhelming at times.”
“So what do you think Alice would think of all this?”
“She would like three seats for, like, two of her friends on each side, and she would be there every night, just like her. You get messages from your loved ones, and I definitely know she’s there.”
To watch the cast of “Almost Famous” perform the song “No Friends,” click on the video player below:
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Story produced by John D’Amelio. Publisher: Steven Tyler.