A lot can happen in six years.
That’s how long it took L.A.-based For the Record to grow up from a renegade little troupe in an 80-seat East Hollywood dive bar, where it performed concerts inspired by the soundtracks of film directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Baz Luhrmann. Now the group is an industry player with the clout to stage an homage to Martin Scorsese, “For the Record: Scorsese — American Crime Requiem,” in a 500-seat theater in the elegant Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
In between, the company built FTR’s following while performing in modest-sized local venues, produced movie music mash-up shows across the U.S. and Canada (and even on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship) and landed a TV deal.
The Scorsese show, a co-production between For the Record and the Wallis, opens Thursday with a large ensemble cast that includes Tony Award-winner John Lloyd Young (“Jersey Boys”), Tony nominee Carmen Cusack (“Bright Star”), Pia Toscano (“American Idol”) and two-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter B. Slade.
The Times spoke to Anderson Davis, director of the production and co-creator of For the Record with Shane Scheel and Christopher Lloyd Bratten. Davis acknowledged that this “American Crime Requiem” — with scenes from “Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and “The Departed” and music from the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Animals and Tony Bennett — is “infamously difficult to describe.”
In press and publicity materials, the format has been called everything from “a new generation cabaret” to “an immersive theatrical concert experience” and “a genre-bending live entertainment event.” How would you define it?
As “a theatrical nightclub experience” or “a rock concert with a story to tell.” It’s immersive in the way that music can really consume the room.
How would you differentiate For the Record’s creations from jukebox musicals?
Mostly that we’re not following any one single narrative. [For “Scorsese”] it wasn’t about making “Goodfellas: The Musical” with the songs from the soundtrack. It was about taking iconic cinematic moments that are inextricably linked to a song — for example, in “Goodfellas,” when Robert De Niro’s character decides he’s going to whack Morrie, and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” starts playing on the soundtrack — and turning them into an entire evening experience.
But you’re still creating some kind of story narrative, yes?
It’s a kind of meta-narrative. You feel like you’re being taken on a journey. You feel like there’s a beginning, middle and an end to the evening, but you’re really just kind of jumping in and out of these loosely connected movie moments using the songs.
These seem like complicated shows to nail. What’s the holy grail for you in crafting these events?
That you can take the feeling of the song as it exists on its own and just contextualize it perfectly within the way a character’s mind feels, the way you feel watching a character in the story.
How do you avoid what might be considered imitations of well-known actors, characters or scenes and make these people and moments your own?
The tricky part of working on these shows is that balance, especially when an actor’s performance is so iconic. Take Joe Pesci: How can you not be inspired by his performance? Yet I always say to my cast that we’re not doing a parody or a skit show or impressions of these actors.
I tell them to watch the films once, then work on the show. It’s super important that our actors create a whole new concept.
How do you choose the filmmakers you showcase? Why Scorsese?
We look to directors who have been most obviously — and distinctively — inspired by music. Scorsese in some ways defines for his generation the art of using rock and pop tunes to help tell the story of a film. He’s used music in such bold and inventive ways as far back as “Mean Streets” .
When the credits roll in that film and Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound “Be My Baby” starts playing and that drum kicks in, you just know immediately that it’s going to be a different kind of experience. That’s Scorsese.
“For the Record: Scorsese” was a 2012 version of “American Crime Requiem.” How does the new show compare?
It’s totally different, completely reconceptualized. The first time, it was a kind of run-through of the highlights of Scorsese’s entire body of work, touching on the best musical moments of those films.
I really wanted this one to be its own unique experience, to have its own transformative narrative focusing on a particular part of Scorsese’s work: his modern crime films. It’s about rock ‘n’ roll and the morality of wiseguys and how they relate to each other.
You’re in development with ABC to produce these shows for live television. What do you think might be gained — and lost — in the transfer from stage to small screen?
I feel like the concept is kind of a natural fit for television, because we are celebrating the filmmaker and it does have elements of a tribute show. But there are certain elements that we’ll have to develop quite specifically for a TV audience. For one, we can’t rely on this idea that you can enter the space and, like on stage, immediately be consumed by the environmental thing, this “immersive” element. We’ll see.
‘For the Record: Scorsese — American Crime Requiem’
Where: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; ends Oct. 16
Tickets: $25-$129 (subject to change)
Information: (310) 746-4000, www.thewallis.org
Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.