It took Cameron Crowe and Tom Kitt a single word to hit off their friendship: “Yeah.” It was January 2018, and the filmmaker and the Broadway composer were co-writing songs for the musical adaptation of Crowe’s classic 2000 movie Almost Famous. “The conversation was like, ‘What are the great ‘yeahs’ in rock?’” Crowe recalls. “It just made me go home on a cloud every day after we would collaborate.”
Crowe cited some significant “yeah” moments from his heroes Tom Petty and Neil Young, while Kitt referenced “I Am the One,” which he composed for 2009’s Next to Normal (earning him two Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama). Together, they wrote “1973,” a beautiful concoction of triumphant “yeahs” that kicks off the musical. It’s the opening track on Almost Famous: The Musical‘s original Broadway cast recording, out today.
“It was finding somebody that led with their musical heart, and we immediately would just geek out and fly into all these different directions talking about the music that we loved,” Crowe says. “I had no real experience except from sitting in audiences and loving plays and musicals. But he showed me, almost immediately, that musical theater — and even regular theater — is not dissimilar from when you fall in love with music and you just want to be part of that world. Almost Famous was always an attempt to capture that feeling.”
The cast recording was cut in Nov. 2022 at New York’s iconic Power Station, in a pace that Crowe compares to “an early Beatles session, where they just bang out 12 songs in a day and go to the pub.” It contains originals from the musical like the highlight “Morocco,” where Penny Lane fantasizes about living for a single year because, as Kate Hudson says in the film, she “needs a new crowd.”
Kitt used Linda Ronstadt for inspiration while writing the song. “Her voice cuts right through you, and I think that’s Penny Lane, in that moment especially,” he says. “Which is why I love the idea of getting a chance to make this musical, because of the film. I remember when she expressed that, it was like a bolt of lightning. It’s at a moment in her life when she was flying so high and on top, and then she expresses this idea of wanting to go somewhere else and find a new crowd. What is the emotion behind that? That’s where musical theater lives.”
The Almost Famous musical ended its run on broadway in January, but Crowe and Kitt see the cast recording as a way to let the music live on. Who knows, maybe some day there will be a touring production. “We had that Broadway experience and that is another chapter,” Kitt says. “What is the next chapter? As I said to Cameron, any day that I get to work on Almost Famous is a good day for me. Whatever future life is waiting, we’re ready for it.”
Crowe throws it back to that legendary rock word: “Hell yeah.“
Read Crowe’s full liner notes to the cast recording below.
THERE IS SOMETHING about a Tom Kitt song. It’s honest and personal in the rarest of ways, always with a kind of magic built in. A Tom Kitt song is like a close friend whispering in your ear, telling you an unexpected secret. As anyone who works with Tom knows, you’ll go home with his melodies swirling in your head. You should be sleeping, but what’s really happening is the songs are doing their job, beckoning your subconscious to see more and feel more.
Our work together began shortly after our first meeting at the office of producer Lia Vollack. Almost Famous is certainly my most personal bit of writing and directing. I had never done a sequel or revisited one of my own projects before. It was Tom’s understanding of the heart of Almost Famous — what it is to be a fan of music, and of life itself — that immediately made me want to dig into his enthusiasm and learn how to bring our story to the stage as a musical. We shared many of the same influences, from Elton John to the Who to T. Rex and Stephen Sondheim. Our conversations were filled with musical shorthand.
We began our songwriting sessions at the “Red Room” on the 28th floor at the Sony Building. It’s a rich environment, with a resonant Steinway piano, and a wrap-around photographic mural of Glenn Gould. Because Almost Famous is an autobiographical story, Kitt suggested that we dig back into the true stories that inspired the film. He wanted to hear the real stuff, the pain and heartbreak and joy, the deep-tissue nature of our family dynamic. I’d often go home and write him lengthy memoir-memos. He would later even invite input from my sister Cindy, who heroically introduced the elixir of music by sharing her exciting and well-curated secret album collection with me. (True to the story of the musical and film, our teacher mom had banned rock in our house because of its obsession with “drugs and promiscuous sex.”) Out of that material came the lyrics and musical rhythms that would be basis for Almost Famous: The Musical. Director Jeremy Herrin and I would sometimes watch as Kitt sat at that Red Room piano, usually with his eyes closed, searching for the melodies that captured the emotions of the story. Like an actor playing a period piece, he’d stitch new ideas into melodies that could fool you. They sounded like forgotten gems from the era of our story, the early Seventies.
Our first round of breakthroughs came in January of 2018. I had mentioned to Tom that as a kid, I’d fallen in love with the Sondheim song “Barcelona,” from Company. I loved the winsome quality, the happy/sad feeling that comes with the push and pull of romantic attraction. One day he played us a new song, “Morocco,” an aching and beautiful composition that would become our “Barcelona.” It was Penny Lane’s first solo song in the musical. I knew we were on the right track. A slew of others followed, including heartbreaking and hilarious songs for Elaine Miller, our story’s protective rock-fearing teacher-mother. “He Knows Too Little (And I Know Too Much)” shows Kitt’s spotlight on authentic emotion, it truly caught the spirit of the original pleading conversation I had with my actual mother who most certainly did not want me on tour with Led Zeppelin before graduating high school. (The song was a highlight of our sold-out off-Broadway run at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Though trimmed for the later Broadway run of Almost Famous: The Musical, it is happily included here.)
Our baby-steps had turned to a sprint. Those early sessions spawned “The Night Time Sky’s Got Nothing On You,” “New Day Coming,” “Everybody’s Coming Together,” and a tour-de-force song with special hometown importance to Kitt, “Lost in New York City.” One of my very favorites, “No Friends,” popped up early too. Talk about niche! Kitt had provided an anthem for the professional dilemma of journalists, particularly our teenage scribe William. What happens when you are befriended by the subjects of your supposedly impartial profile?
Another breakthrough was the arrival of “1973,” our opening tribute to musical fandom, spawned partially from a conversation about what is arguably the most important word in rock lyricism — “yeah.”
We soon found the actors who would bring these songs to life on stage. It was a murderer’s row of young veterans and newcomers. Solea Pfeiffer, Casey Likes, Anika Larsen, Rob Colletti, Colin Donnell, Van Hughes, Daniel Sovich, Gerard Canonico, Drew Gehling, Matt Bittner, Brandon Contreras, Katie Ladner, Julia Cassandra, Emily Schultheis, Libby Winters, Matthew Yee, Storm Lever, and Sam Gravitte all traveled to San Diego for the next stage in our show’s growth. Each one would memorably embrace the words and melodies with the passion of true music lovers. At the end of our show, they would all shine with their contributions. It was Tom’s idea to bring all the characters back at the end for “Fever Dog Bows,” where even the once-doubting Elaine Miller and Lester Bangs brought rousing contributions that sent audiences to their feet nightly.
After our San Diego run, we added Chris Wood as Russell Hammond, Jana Dejenne Jackson as Polexia Aphrodesia, and Jakeim Hart as the manager Dennis Hope. We headed to Broadway with a largely intact ensemble, and took to the stage. Our raucous opening night reception featured no less than Joni Mitchell cheering us on from the third row, applauding our use of her own timeless song, “River,” coupled with “Lost in New York.”
That spirit carried us into our late fall marathon session for our Original Cast Recording at New York’s Power Station. Everybody was there, cast, swings, our show band full of maestros and our treasured Musical Director/Keyboard Conductor Bryan Perri, Associate Conductor and Keyboard Conductor /music-leader Dan Green, along with Assistant Nick Connors. Producer Scott Riesett brought his sonic touch, as did Sony Sr. VP Scott Farthing. With Tom Kitt at the helm, we rocked through 17 tracks, including covers of “Simple Man,” “Ramble On,” “The Wind,” “Tiny Dancer,” and others. Full versions of some of our original songs have been included here. (There’s even an Easter Egg of an inclusion, another of our favorite outtakes, Solea’s “Anything’s Possible.”) The cast and band recorded in rooms throughout the studio. On that night, the legendary Power Station, home of a million hits, was pumping with our songs. On every floor.
The passion and camaraderie of Almost Famous: The Musical is alive in these tracks. So here’s to those magical nights and afternoons on stage, with thanks to all who helped build the show with their whole hearts. When our marathon cast recording session was over and almost all had left, I stayed behind in the main studio room at the Power Station. What remained was the silent echo of human warmth, dedication and the answer to a simple question. What do I love about our Almost Famous family, and this group of artists who’d come together to sing our songs, play these parts, and tell our story about life, love, family and music itself?…