By Maureen Lee Lenker
October 02, 2019 at 03:28 PM EDT

We’re guessing the cast members of the Almost Famous musical weren’t wishing for a river to skate away on when Joni Mitchell showed up at their show.

The iconic folk singer made a rare public appearance at the world premiere of the Almost Famous musical last Friday in San Diego, Calif. The musical features one of Mitchell’s most beloved songs, “River,” which is having quite a moment given that it also pops up in an episode of Netflix’s new series The Politician.

“It was an incredible honor and a surprise to most of the cast that Joni was there for opening night,” Cameron Crowe, the writer and director of the Almost Famous film, told Rolling Stone. “She owned the room, offstage and on, especially when Casey [Likes] and Solea [Pfeiffer] sang their version of her classic song ‘River’ in the play.”

Bruce Glikas/WireImage

Crowe famously wrote a 1979 Rolling Stone cover story on Mitchell, and his experiences as a rock journalist helped inspire Almost Famous. The 2000 film and musical are loosely based on the life of William Miller, a teenage Rolling Stone writer. Mitchell and Crowe have remained in touch over the years, prompting Mitchell to joke about Crowe’s admiration for her at an after-party. “Later, at the after-party, when she met Casey, who plays the young journalist, he spilled most of his Coke on her shoes,” Crowe told Rolling Stone. “She laughed. ‘No problem, Cameron has done the same to me many times!’”

Almost Famous is based on Crowe’s film of the same name, and it’s a natural fit for musical adaptation considering music is inherent to its storytelling. It follows a young journalist coming of age in the early 1970s as he follows a band on tour. The musical features 20 new original songs, co-written by Crowe and composer Tom Kitt, in addition to numerous tracks from the film.

“The feeling of the movie was always meant to generate that kind of bubble you get into when you hear something that just transports you, and you want to stay in that place as long as you can,” Crowe previously told EW. “And that was the first thing that I said to the people working on the play: Let’s create an immersive environment where it’s 1973, and you are falling in love with this music and you don’t want to leave. You have to, but you ache a little bit and you want to go back there. That’s always how I felt about a great concert or piece of music. Sometimes it takes a while to grow on you and then you can’t imagine a world without it.”

The show’s director, Jeremy Herrin, has also stressed the importance of the sounds and ethos of the ’70s to the vibe of the musical. “We’ve taken the early ’70s as our playground,” he told EW. “We’re referencing all of our favorite musicians, and Tom is using that as a launchpad to write his own stuff. So we hope that it’s a rich brew that involves songs from the period that we know and love, some of which are in the soundtrack, and new songs in that style.”

Almost Famous is now playing at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater through Oct. 27. The cast includes Likes as William, Pfeiffer as the enigmatic Penny Lane, Colin Donnell as Russell, Drew Gehling as singer Jeff Bebe, Anika Larsen as William’s mother Elaine, and Rob Colletti as legendary rock critic Lester Bangs.

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