Casey Likes (center) stars in "Almost Famous" at the Old Globe Theatre. Photo by Neal Preston
Cameron Crowe’s stage-musical adaptation of his 2000 film “Almost Famous” is ebullient, joyous and warm, shining a strobe light not only on his youthful (he was 15) pursuit of a career as a music journalist but on the vagaries and excesses of the 1970s rock culture. Like the film from which it was adapted, the world-premiere musical is also, as Crowe has called it, a “love letter” to San Diego and to his mother, Alice.
Crowe’s collaborators on this adaptation being staged at the Old Globe Theatre are Pulitzer Prize winner (for the edgy musical “Next to Normal”) Tom Kitt and Tony Award nominee (for “Wolf Hall, Parts 1 and 2) Jeremy Herrin, who directs. “Almost Famous” the musical relies heavily on songs written for it (music and lyrics by Kitt, with lyrics also by Crowe), with a couple others that were used in the film (“River” by Joni Mitchell, who was in attendance at the Globe on opening night; Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” and “Fever Dog,” written by Heart’s Nancy Wilson for Stillwater, the fictitious band in both the movie and this musical).
There’s no question that this project is close to Crowe’s heart, and it’s his affection for this at-once thrilling and anxious time in his young life that is so eloquently brought to the fore. Casey Likes is just about perfect as William Miller (the Crowe character), mentored by acerbic rock critic Lester Bangs (Rob Colletti, colorfully playing the cynical yin to William’s wide-eyed yang.) Stalwart too are Anika Larsen as William’s uber-protective mother, and both Colin Donnell and Drew Gehling as the battling but mutually charismatic front men of Stillwater, with whom William goes on tour as an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine. Solea Pfeiffer is “Band Aid” Penny Lane, and while her ballads feel a little repetitive, she renders each with tenderness.
The production at the Old Globe, which Crowe as a boy used to attend with his mother, is outstanding, from Derek McLane’s versatile scenic design to David Zinn’s costumes to the sound design of Peter Hylenski. Recurringly throughout its more than two and a half hours, “Almost Famous” looks, feels and sounds like a rock concert. Nothing could make Cameron Crowe happier than that. Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 10/2/19.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat