How Tom Kitt Created a Brand-New Score for Almost Famous on Broadway
How Tom Kitt Created a Brand-New Score for Almost Famous on Broadway

How Tom Kitt Created a Brand-New Score for Almost Famous on Broadway

It’s all happening! Almost Famous is hitting the road from San Diego to Broadway this fall. Tickets are now on sale at a Shubert theatre to be announced for the new musical, based on the 2000 film written and directed by Cameron Crowe that won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The story follows William, a teenage aspiring rock journalist, as he reports on the lives of an up-and-coming band. It mirrored the real-life experiences of a young Crowe, who started his career in journalism.

Now, more than 20 years later, Crowe has turned his semiautobiographical story into a musical directed by Tony Award nominee Jeremy Herrin, with original music and lyrics by Tony Award–winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal). The show seamlessly blends Kitt’s original score with popular songs from the era including the iconic numbers: “Cat Stevens’s “The Wind”, and perhaps its most famous hit, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Almost Famous made its world stage premiere in September 2019 at the Old Globe theatre in San Diego.

The production will star Chris Wood, Tony Award nominee Anika Larsen, Solea Pfeiffer, Drew Gehling, and introducing Casey Likes. The company will also include Rob Colletti, Matt Bittner, Chad Burris, Gerard Canonico, Julia Cassandra, Brandon Contreras, Jakeim Hart, Van Hughes, Jana Djenne Jackson, Katie Ladner, Danny Lindgren, Erica Mansfield, Alisa Melendez, Emily Schultheis, Daniel Sovich, Libby Winters, and Matthew C. Yee.

Broadway Direct spoke to Kitt all about working with Crowe on transforming one of his most iconic movies into a musical and how they worked together to create brand-new songs for the production — including a sneak peek at one of them.

What was your initial impression of Cameron Crowe before you joined Almost Famous?

Cameron Crowe was my hero. I grew up with his movies having a real impact on my life, from the characters to the beautiful writing. There’s a sensibility in the world he creates and it just speaks to you. Every film of Cameron’s was always an event for me. Every time there was a new one, I had to be there in the theatre to see it opening week. As an artist, when something speaks to you in that way, you think, “I would just love to tell this artist how his work has impacted me.” Never mind the fact that I would be one day sitting at the table with him, creating.

What was the process of getting involved in the show like for you? How did Cameron Crowe choose you?

It was a meeting. I was just excited to get to be in the room with him and tell him what his work meant to me. I hoped that he would see me as a collaborator on this musical. I think in that first meeting, we clicked and I was able to talk to him about how I saw the musical, how his work has affected me, and how I was going to be someone who was going to take care of what he had already created and find a way to adapt it into a musical.

What was it like collaborating with Cameron, who co-wrote lyrics to your music?

We have a wonderful process where we song-spot together. Meaning, identifying all the moments in the book where songs will occur. There were moments where I would sort of try to crack something and then we would bat it back and forth. There were times where I would ask Cameron for an essay or some kind of monologue. Then I would turn that into lyrics.

How did you channel all the amazing 1970’s rock music from the movie into the songs that you wrote for the show?

One of the most exciting and satisfying parts of this process was just to talk music with Cameron. We would listen and discuss if the music felt right for the moment. We wrote fast and furiously in those first months because we set a deadline to have a table read in six months from the time we started writing. We met that deadline. I remember I was writing a song a day. I was in San Francisco working on Head Over Heels. I had the mornings where I would go to the theatre and create the song. I would send it to Cameron and then get his feedback. We were really riffing off one another. I remember for the song “No Friends” in Act One for William, thinking this would be a great time to check in with him emotionally. William is given sage advice by Lester Bangs that you cannot make friends with rock stars. You have to be objective. He’s a young kid and he’s searching for a crowd to belong to. That’s what musical theater does: We get inside of William, and at that moment, all of the things that he’s struggling to make sense of. Here’s a major theme in the show that [otherwise] would be really hidden. That was a really exciting moment of a song that we hadn’t thought of until that day.

The original movie had such great songs, including “Tiny Dancer.” Can you hear some bits of them in your score?

I don’t know if I would say anything specific. But I would say that if we’ve done our job, you feel like the [new] songs fit in. After the out-of-town [record-breaking tryout at the Old Globe theatre in San Diego] and a number of developmental work sessions, it certainly feels to me like Cameron and I have found this wonderful sweet spot where we have original songs that we’re really proud of. We are telling the story and giving new insights and emotional beats to the film, but also honoring the time that we are in.

How did you decide to keep “Tiny Dancer” from the movie in the musical?

The challenge is: You have this moment that everyone remembers from the film. How are we going to find its right sensibility in the musical and, hopefully, make a moment that feels just as satisfying? That’s where I feel like my work on Jagged Little Pill and American Idiot could come into play. I have to step outside of the reverence of this iconic song and [decide], What does it mean to do it theatrically? I think we came up with something that I’m really proud of where it’s happening in real time. Then it travels a little bit into William’s mind. We go from an acoustic analog version on the bus to suddenly this full-bodied beautiful wall of sound.

Obviously, Elton John had to give you permission to use the song.

I first spoke to him around the time when Billy Elliot and Next to Normal were in the same season. When I saw Billy Elliot, I was blown away. I asked someone who I knew had a connection to him, before I knew Cameron, and if I could write him a note telling him how much I love the show and what his work has meant to me. We had this wonderful conversation back in 2009 after the Tony Awards. Just before the pandemic, when he won the Oscar [for his original song in Rocketman], I wrote him an email congratulating him, and he wrote me back. He’s a fan of Almost Famous. He said beautiful things and wished us well. I truly can’t wait for him to see it.

Can you tell me about the song “Everybody’s Coming Together” and where that falls in the show?

“Everybody’s Coming Together” is one of the first ones we wrote. I always remember when I saw this film, there was a little bit of a jam sing-along moment that happens in the Riot House. I was thinking: Here’s an opportunity for us to have an original gesture. So I was led by that musically. I also thought through the chance to have something thematic of this idea that music brings people together. It’s a smaller moment in the first act that then becomes this grand moment at the end of the play. It was an early realization that this idea that anybody who wants to be part of something is going to find a way. You’re gonna pick up an instrument, and you’re going to come make music.

What are audiences going to take away from the show?

They’re going to come away with a great appreciation and love for a story that feels joyous and poignant. I cry at the musical every time because of this idea that there’s something in the world like music. This idea that you get to come and experience live performance, live artistry in real time, is something that I never took for granted, but certainly after the pandemic, I’m so appreciative of it.

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