ALMOST FAMOUS may be about people chasing music, and the bright lights of fame, but with a fantastic cast, great music, and creative choreography, this new musical doesn’t need to chase anything, it’s ready to bring some rock and roll to Broadway.
Based on the movie of the same name by Cameron Crowe, it chronicles a formative time in Crowe’s life as a teenage music journalist and accompanying on tour the very bands he used to listen to at home. It’s a love story to music, fandom, the early 1970’s, and of course, San Diego.
I am apparently the only person in San Diego who hasn’t seen this movie, and having not been around for this golden time in rock and roll, I entered with zero preconceived notions and left the show swept up in the fun and nostalgia and wishing for a lighter to wave in the air.
William (Casey Likes) is a 15 year old high school student who is also a music critic. When speaking with rock journalist Lester Bangs (Rob Colletti) about covering music, William decides to take the first step on his formative journey by talking his way backstage at the San Diego Sport’s Arena to interview a band. “You CANNOT make friends with the rock stars,” Lester sternly warns William before he embarks on this adventure.
Next thing William knows he is on tour with the bands, writing for Rolling Stone, and having befriended the girls following the band – they’re not groupies, the call themselves “Band Aids” because they follow for the music, not to sleep with the band (which they also do).
The chief of these girls is Penny Lane (Solea Pfeiffer) who takes him under her wing to show him how to live a backstage and band tour lifestyle.
William finds himself on less solid ground with the band Stillwater who alternately view him as a friend or as the enemy. This allows William a front row seat when the relationship between guitarist Russell (Collin Donnell) and lead singer Jeff Bebe (Drew Gehling) starts to erode.
The bitter to balance out some of this sweet, sepia toned story is William’s strict mother Elaine (Anika Larsen) who only wants what’s best for her kids, but her methods leave them chafing for freedom. Colletti’s Lester also brings some hard needed doses of reality to William when the fantasy is starting to feel more like nightmare.
As fun as rock stars are, this show all hinges on the delivery of William by Casey Likes. Likes is exceptional as the sweet, intelligent, and empathetic William. His combination of sweet comedy, and strong vocals are the heart of this show. Likes is also a Jimmy Award finalist, proving that this national program is continuing to develop the theatre stars of tomorrow.
Donnell as Stillwater’s Russell is appealing, with a great voice and an appropriate bad boy rock feeling; one that belies the insecure guy underneath who is (sometimes) looking for something real. Gehling as the lead singer is a comically insecure wanna-be rock legend, but with lots of personality and vocal power.
Pfeiffer brings soulful vocals to her sweet, free spirit Penny who gives out sage advice but fails to follow it herself. Katie Ladner, Storm Lever, and Julia Cassandra brings lots of character and vocal power to the other Band Aid’s.
Colletti brings the rock critic Lester Bangs to life with funny, if sharp reminders of reality. Larsen as William’s mom Elaine is formidable and funny, especially in the second act “Elaine’s Lecture” where she laments that “rock stars have kidnapped my son.”
The music by Tom Kitt feels so perfect for 1970’s rock that even when actual hits from that time like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” “Ramble On” by Led Zepplin,” or Joni Mitchell’s “River” appear they feel like a natural fit to the musical score.
Choreography by Lorin Latarro is energetic and creative, and captures that exuberant feeling when you’re young, full of energy and promise, and listening to your favorite music.
The scenic design by Derek McLane allows for quick and effective scene changes, using a few anchor pieces to define the locations. Accompanied by Natasha Katz’s lighting, David Zinn’s costumes, and sound design by Peter Hylenski the show keeps everything moving and organic feeling as each scene flows into the next.
The 12 member orchestra led by Daniel Green excellently brings the sound of this rock age to life and leaves the audience happily rocking out as they depart the theatre.
ALMOST FAMOUS may capture an era from music’s past, but there is no doubt that its future is going to rock.
ALMOST FAMOUS is playing at The Old Globe through October 27th. For show time and ticket information go to www.oldglobe.org