Some of the more memorable moments ever put on film, from Tom Cruise at the end of his rope in "Jerry Maguire," to John Cusack's boom box in "Say Anything," came from writer-director Cameron Crowe. But people tell him the one they really relate to is this:
William Miller: "I have to go home."
Penny Lane: "You ARE home."
2000's "Almost Famous" is his story. He actually was the teen who left home to cover rock 'n' roll, and the Frances McDormand character was based on his real mom, Alice.
The film wasn't an immediate hit. But it caught on in home rentals, and for Crowe – who won an Academy Award for best original screenplay – it was among his career highs. Accepting his Oscar he described the movie "a love letter to music, and to my family."
And now, 22 years later, that love letter is being read again eight times a week. "Almost Famous," the musical, opened on Broadway last week: faithful to the movie, and more.
Crowe said, "If you're going to tell the story correctly, it's a personal story, you have to get personal."
"Even if it's painful?" asked correspondent Tracy Smith.
"Sometimes most of all."
Crowe grew up in San Diego, and lived for a time with his mom and sister in a basement apartment. He visited along with Smith; he hadn't been back in 50 years. "Oh, man, wow. I wanna start listening to Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Black Sabbath. I can feel it coming! Holy mackerel. This totally feels like home."
The kitchen was diminutive. "Yes, the vast expanse," he said. "But it's okay, 'cause my mom was not a good cook."
But Alice Crowe was a college professor, and she had definite ideas about what her kids were learning. And rock music was off the list. "She just felt that rock 'n' roll was going to destroy brain cells," said Crowe.
But their apartment was just down the hill from San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, and she'd take him there to see Shakespeare. "Made me go. Demanded!" he said.
He'd thank her later.
Just like the kid in his movie, young Cameron started writing for rock magazines – Creem, Rolling Stone – and eventually graduated to screenplays and directing. Mom was proud, of course, but she wanted him to write a musical based on "Almost Famous." In time, he did, and by 2019 he was ready to stage it – where else? – at the Old Globe. But only days before the first-ever preview, Mrs. Crowe, who was in her 90s, had a bad fall and slipped into a coma.
Anika Larson, who plays the Alice Crowe character in the show, asked Cameron to let her go to Alice's bedside.
"They say people in comas can hear, so he took me to the hospital, I held her hand, I introduced myself to her, I sang her three songs for her," Larson said. "I thought, if she can't come to the show, we bring the show to her. And he took me back, we did our first dress rehearsal that night, and she died that night."
Cameron said, "The first audiences came in just after we'd lost her. And, you know, I felt her spirit every night. I feel it here now. To her last breath, she was saying, 'Never give up. Tell this story.' And we did."
In spite of it all, opening night in San Diego was a triumph. Joni Mitchell was in the crowd, and celebration was in the air.
Crowe recalled, "They would say, 'So, are 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 ever happens, I'm good!'"
But in the end, he couldn't resist the chance to see his mother's dream happen, and the cast packed their bags for Broadway. And now, after a three-year pandemic delay, it's all happening.
Broadway composer Tom Kitt wrote a score that sounds 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 is really exciting to me is that there was everyone who could see themselves in Kate Hudson," Pfeiffer said. "And now, as a woman of color stepping into this role, little girls like me get to see themselves in this role. I feel it just like cracks the door open just enough."
But beyond the music and the cast and the lights of Broadway, it's really about one family, and a dream finally come true.
Smith asked Crowe, "What is it like seeing your story come to life night after night?"
"Sometimes it rubs deeply, and sometimes it kind of opens some raw memories," he replied. "But to see your own life up there, kind of with veins open, you know, it's sometimes overwhelming."
"So, what do you think Alice would think of all this?"
"She would want three seats for, like, two of her friends on each side, and she would be there every night, just like she is. You do get messages from your loved ones, and I definitely know she's here."
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. Editor: Steven Tyler.
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