Being a rock enthusiast in the 1970s was a vocation that took time and dedication. Go ahead, roll your eyes and moan “OK boomer”, but there was no internet to call up performance clips, no music streaming services, no dedicated music video channels. There were listening stations in record stores, where crowds converged on the day an anticipated new album was released; there was the radio, transmitting a jolt of excitement whenever a favorite song played; and if you were lucky, there were concert tour stops in or near your hometown.
Friends’ record collections were gifts to be shared, like mini lending libraries. Weekly showcases for hits like American bandstand Where train of souls in the USA, top pops in the UK or Countdown in Australia were TV dates for music-loving teenagers.
Fandom without today’s fingertip access was a more diligent pursuit, often a frustrating waiting game punctuated with sparks of joy that made you feel like part of a sacred cult. This made great music journalists revered sources of knowledge.
Cameron Crowethe 2000 movie almost known — the best and most personal of his films — captured those heady moments through a semi-autobiographical recollection of his own wide-eyed experience as a teenage writer. In his Oscar-winning original screenplay, 15-year-old director replacement William Miller landed a feature film for rolling stone, featuring the fictional rock band Stillwater. The film is a tender coming-of-age drama colored by disillusionment, moral education and grief, carried by the shimmering sweetness of memory and the uplifting power of music.
Should it become a musical? Questionable. But one thing the effusive spectacle pulls off, like the movie that spawned it, is the infectious energy of rock ‘n’ roll at a transitional moment – 1973 – when the raw, rebellious spirit of big rock made up to the smoother, more marketed sound of the mass consumer superstar. For many vintage bands and solo artists, that year was an artistic pinnacle they would never equal again. It gives Crowe’s quasi-memory, in both incarnations, a bittersweet undertow of simultaneous discovery and loss.
The other big advantage of the musical is its cast. In film, the pivotal roles of William and Penny Lane – the ethereal goddess who floats between a tour bus and an endless series of hotels and concert halls as if swept away by the music – were early career highs for Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson, respectively. .
As the eyes through which we see all of history, William is very important, and newcomer Casey Likes is an extremely engaging guide. He balances the arrogance 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 sours. He’s also a strong singer, with a surprisingly big and versatile voice adaptable to a range of styles.
Playing Penny, the “retired” groupie surrounded by a constellation of “Band-Aids” (Julia Cassandra, Katie Ladner, Jana Djenne Jackson) traveling with Stillwater, Solea Pfeiffer makes an incandescence Broadway debut, costume designer David Zinn’s fabulous take on Penny’s signature shearling coat, not to mention a pair of crocheted hotpants. Beyond the look, she creates a character that’s true to the film’s mold but with a little more agency, vulnerable to romantic pain but the unworthy toy of anyone, even as she knowingly walks through an ocean of pain.
Pfeiffer gets two from composer-lyricist Tom Kittthe series’ best new songs, the ardent contemplation of a future new beginning, “Morocco”, and the duet “The Night-Time Sky’s Got Nothing on You”, in which Penny and Stillwater lead guitarist married Russell Hammond (Chris Wood) exchange lists of qualities that fuel their mutual intoxication. But Pfeiffer’s dreamy rendition of Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” is so beautiful, it’s one of the few moments that almost made me wish the show was a musical jukebox.
Kitt’s “1973” is a well-crafted opening number that features William’s frustration as an outsider smothered by his overprotective widowed mother Elaine (Anika Larsen) and deprived of his cool older sister Anita (Emily Schultheis) doing a break for her freedom.
More often than not, however, new songs are fleeting. When you pepper professional Broadway tunes with samples from Led Zeppelin, T. Rex, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, Joni Mitchell and more, it just might leave you craving more of the real thing. But Kitt, who was a key creative on american idiot and Little shredded pillis a deft weaver of rock nuggets into musical narratives, and thanks to his artfully blended arrangements and orchestrations – as well as the ensemble’s beautiful harmonies – it all sounds quite harmonious.
The shocking disappointment for me was one of the film’s defining moments – Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, a poignant spontaneous chant to break up a tense moment on the Stillwater tour bus. Positioned as the closer Act I, it starts off beautifully when the guys sing, but then the dressings come in and coat it with intrusive melisma. This show-offy style of vocalization has been a staple since the ’80s, but it doesn’t feel period-accurate here and took me out of the elaborately conjured middle of the musical. Please just sing the song, ladies, drop the embellishments; it’s not american idol.
One of Crowe’s strengths as a writer is his ability to shape complex characters who become the story rather than just walking through it. That applies not only to William and Penny and soulful heartbreaker Russell (A+ hair and mustache), but also to Elaine, whose “Don’t Do Drugs” tension is played for humor, but not for the sake of it. detriment of her love for her son.
While Larsen sticks to the contours of Frances McDormand in the film, she brings her own depth to the role in two terrific character-defining songs. The melancholy but fun “Elaine’s Lecture,” punctuated by the refrain “Rock stars have kidnapped my son,” is a touching acknowledgment of how her initial ambivalence about becoming a parent turned into a gnawing concern for her children. in a world with the wrong priorities. And “Listen to Me” is a clever musicalization of the phone call in which the intimidating Elaine enforces the law for Russell.
Stillwater’s dynamic is well-drawn, especially the cleansing resentment of vocalist Jeff Bebe (cartoonish but funny Drew Gehling), who is uncomfortably aware that the more naturally charismatic Russell is seen as the band’s true star. The steady deterioration of their relationship and the strains created by the demands of their growing fame following the hit song “Fever Dog” (a perfect pastiche co-written for the film by Crowe and his then-wife Nancy Wilson) give William the meat for his rolling stone characteristic. This of course causes conflict, though it is his unrequited love for Penny and his mistreatment by Russell that fuels William’s growing unease.
The show’s deep affection for its time is infectious, which helps mask some of its shortcomings. 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 could just carry a phone with you.” And Stillwater’s efficient new manager (Jakeim Hart), tasked by the label with ousting the band’s old friend (Gerard Canonico), underscores the fleetingness of their moment by warning that fans will one day find a way to get their music. free “from a spaceship in the sky”, also highlighting the unlikelihood that Mick Jagger is still trying to be a rock star at 50. The show is a heartfelt love letter to the 70s; why add flattering jokes to that the contemporary public feels above?
A wise choice Crowe makes is to expand the role of William’s mentor, legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Rob Colletti), making him a lonely Greek chorus who periodically reappears to advise his young protege and lament the mud and the guts drained from the rock. ‘n’ roll. It is certain that William will break the first cardinal rule that Lester imposes on him: “Don’t befriend rock stars.” Just as Penny ignores her own credo: “No attachments, no limits.”
British director Jeremy Herrin – chosen by Crowe for directing the hyper-kinetic, experiential addiction drama, People, places and things – moves things along smoothly in a story that covers a lot of ground while still keeping its primary focus on intimate relationships. Derek McLane’s sets are framed by backstage scaffolding, with scene changes that look like roadies loading up gear for each new gig; its video elements include a back wall map of the United States, appearing regularly to show the progress of the Stillwater tour, from San Diego to New York.
The musical is unlikely to supplant anyone’s love for the film. But in the glut of cynical screen-to-stage adaptations that have become an epidemic on Broadway over the past 20 years, this is at least one adaptation from the heart. For anyone who spent their youth obsessing over good music and believing rock stars were, well, rock stars, almost known will carry a sweet pain of gratitude. Pass the Quaaludes.
Venue: Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, New York
With: Casey Likes, 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
Director: Jeremy Herrin
Scenography and video: Derek McLane
Costume designer: David Zinn
Lighting Designer: Natasha Katz
Sound engineer: Peter Hylenski
Voice Designer: Annmarie Milazzo
Orchestration and arrangements: Tom Kitt
Musical supervision and direction: Bryan Perri
Choreographer: Sarah O’Gleby
Executive producers: Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Jillian Robbins, Devin Keudell
Presented by Lia VollackMichael Cassel, Joey Parnes