Successfully transforming a film into a rewarding Broadway musical is no guarantee. For every Waitress, The Producers, and Spamalot the landscape is littered with such miscalculations as Rocky, Groundhog Day, and Catch Me If You Can. The latest entry into this ever growing field is Almost Famous and, unfortunately, the show comes under the disappointment category.
The main problem is the book, written by the movie’s screenwriter and director, Cameron Crowe. The film received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but the stage production follows the storyline of the motion picture too closely. What worked on screen doesn’t fully translate to the stage. Director Jeremy Herrin’s perfunctory staging produces a choppy presentation with the main action continuously being sidetracked by annoying subplots.
The musical’s scenario, a semi-autobiographical look at Crowe’s early life, revolves around teenager William Miller, a would-be rock ‘n roll writer whose work catches the eye of influential rock journalist and critic Lester Bangs. Assigned to cover a Black Sabbath concert he, instead, manages to befriend the band Stillwater, primarily lead guitarist Russell Hammond, and their flock of groupies, headed by Penny Lane. Through his connection with the up-and-coming band, he manages to get an assignment to write a cover story on them for Rolling Stone magazine. From that point, the show follows the young man’s journey and interactions with the rockers and groupies, a bygone era of innocence and carefree revelry. As the show moves on, we witness Miller’s growth from a naive youth, who just wants to fit in and belong, to a more slightly worldly young man who learns some important life lessons such as trust and being true to yourself.
The production features a score with music by Broadway veteran Tom Kitt (Next to Normal and If/Then) and lyrics by Cameron Crowe. It’s a mixed bag of satisfactory original compositions layered with songs from such artists as the Allman Brothers, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” one of the most iconic moments in the movie, which proves not to have the same dramatic effect on stage.
A few of the numbers written for the musical standout. They include “No Friends,” a haunting ballad sung by the teen; the raucous “Everybody’s Coming Together,” with its folk-rock, sing-song quality; and the boisterous curtain opener, “1973.”
The cast is uniformly fine. Casey Likes gives a wide-eyed, boyish and heartfelt performance as the young William Miller. His portrayal anchors the production. Chris Wood’s Russell Hammond has the positive vibe of a laid back Southern California rocker. Drew Gehling, as fellow band member, Jeff Bebe, comes across a tad too much like a stereotypical party hardy, vainglorious head banger. Sola Pfeiffer’s Penny Lane has an earthy aura and free spirit attitude. Her portrayal of the lead band groupie - part fan, lover, and philosopher - rings true for the character. Rob Colletti’s performance as Lester Bangs is bombastic and a little preachy as he serves up platitudes and sagely advice to the newbie rock journalist.
Almost Famous, a mostly unsatisfying film to stage metamorphosis.