Saturday, October 12, 2019

“Almost Famous” Ready For Prime Time.

I really don’t think “Almost Famous” the musical, based on and and adapted from the 2000 movie of the same name, now playing at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park through Nov. 27th needs any help from me to promote it. That said I can’t help but encourage friends old and new from bragging about it and urging them to see it before it goes to Broadway. In my humble opinion, it will.

Sometimes I feel like a new -born babe. I’ve been living in San Diego since 1959 and for some reason I never saw the movie. I had no idea who Cameron Crowe was.

The only reason I know of the group the Rolling Stones or the magazine of the same name is because of my now adult children, who at the time of the whole rock ‘n roll industry were barely entering their teens, and they were way ahead of their parents. Later on they did get to see Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, The Who and a few others until they lost interest. We took them to see John Denver at the Sports Arena. Well?????
William Miller as Cameron Crowe
It was during the ‘70’s that Crowe, who went to University High and City College, started hanging around the stage doors of the Sports Arena on Rosecrans. And that’s where our “Almost Famous” story picks up.  

Simply said, it’s the coming of age story of a young idealistic teenager, Crowe played with delicious innocence and vulnerability by William Miller who deserves some serious mention in the years to come. Crowe was a rock fan whose ambition to become a major music journalist and reporter, finds himself on the outside of that musical equation until he’s not.

His journey takes him on a tumultuous ride from The San Diego Sports Arena stage door, which he did manage to crash with the help of a girls band known as the ‘Band Aids’ led by a tall, ambitious and much older than in the movie starring Kate Hudson, Penny Lane (Solea Pfieffer), who later turns out to be Crowe’s heart-throb. (“Morocco”).
Drew Gehling and Colin Donnell
He is after all 15 and yet to graduate High School, a running thread throughout the story where he promises his mother Elaine (a perfect Anika Larson -“Rock stars have kidnapped my son”) that he will make it home from his various road stops with his now homie (fictional) band ‘Stillwater’, to graduate. That never happened but he did manage to get his H.S. degree after all. 

With book and some lyrics by Crowe and music (17 or so new songs including “1973”) and lyrics by Tom Kitt (“Next To Normal”), plus some used in the movie version by Joni Mitchell (“River”); Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and “Fever Dog” by Heart’s Nancy Wilson, and if I’m not mistaken I thought I recognized an Abba reference and a Cat Stevens song (“Wind”), the orchestra under Bryan Perri's musical direction, played on.  
Katie Ladner, Solea Pfeiffer, William Miller, Julia Cassandra, and Storm Lever
As the story progresses from his being an outsider to actually becoming one of the band’s groupies traveling with them, engaging in some not so savvy activities (losing his virginity in what looked like an non-consensual ménage a trios)  to his rise to the top, his story is filled with the sweetness of a valentine. 

With the aid of Rolling Stones magazine music critic and mentor Lester Bangs, “be honest and unmerciful” (Rob Colletti) prods Crowe to get live interviews with individual band members to make his stories more authentic.

After a fashion his interviews with Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, rose to the top of the charts. He was the magazine’s youngest ever contributor. At sixteen his feature story on the Allman Brothers Band was his first cover story for Rolling Stones.  (“They appreciated that I knew their music.”)
William Miller
Director Jeremy Herrin has no less nineteen different characters switching roles with additional characters (too many for my taste) to help fill in the gaps. Some take on larger than life roles an appealing lead guitarist Colin Donnell as Russell Hammond and singer Drew Gehling as Jeff Bebe both part of the ‘Stillwater’ band.

The girls band that originally helped him gain access to the inside of the arena, ‘The Band Aids’ are pretty much in the picture with the on again off again bitter -sweet romance with Penny Lane that breaks Crow’s/ Miller’s heart. Those in the Band include Katie Ladner, Solea Pfeiffer, Casey Likes, Julia Cassandra and Storm Lever. Over all they are everywhere up to and including Crowe/ Miller loss of innocence’.

Choreographer Lorin Latarro’s dance moves keep Crowe’s pictures and reminiscences moving seamlessly with an open door policy and with efficiency oft times moving so fast that one scene blends into another never stopping to breathe. 

Derek McLane’s scenic design with the whole crew on a bus and a plane trip that almost ended in tragedy moves in and out about as fast as the seamless scenes and David Zinn’s costumes are 70’s perfect. Natasha Katz lighting again is at the top of the scales and just to prove that sound design can and does work in the Globe, Peter Hylenski’s sound design is flawless. 

Many scenes in the movie version were shot in and around Balboa Park. 

Crowe turned his energies then to writing his first book “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” that began as an article in Rolling Stones. Later he went on to writing the screenplay for it that eventually became a cult classic in 1982. 

Crowe’s “Almost Famous The Musical” will once again put San Diego on the map as it prepares for The Great White Way, and it will.

His story is one for our local fans to crow about and his experiences will leave you smiling that local guy makes it big in a world that’s gone mad yet we can still keep our bragging rights.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 27th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: start at $70.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Neal Preston

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