“Don’t make friends with the rock stars.” “No attachments, no boundaries.”
Cameron Crowe’s 2000 movie Almost Famous has made it to Broadway. This autobiographical memory musical drops you into 1973. Unfortunately, it is not as exciting, eventful, or memorable as the lives spent in that decade. This was a time when records were teenagers’ life blood and a real life concert could change your life. Rock bands were at their height, as well as the groupies who infused their world.
15-year-old William Miller (a likable Casey Likes), lives in San Diego with his domineering mom (Anika Larson) and his rebellious sister (Emily Schultheis), who gives her love of music to Miller to free him. All of the characters seem ripped straight from the film but seem unmemorable except for Lester Bangs’ (a Jack Black like Rob Colletti) his mentor from Creem magazine. He gives Miller his first assignment with Black Sabbath, which puts him on the radar for Rolling Stone, doing an expose on a fictitious rock band called Stillwater.
Shinning like a star in the role of Penny Lane, the girl who befriends Miller, is the incandescent Solea Pfeiffer. I have been saying this girl is someone to watch since her debut as Maria in West Side Story at the Hollywood Bowl. She makes costume designer David Zinn’s clothes look sensational, especially Penny’s signature shearling coat and crocheted hotpants. She even makes Tom Kitt’s unforgettable score sound winning. “Morocco,” the duet “The Night-Time Sky’s Got Nothing on You,” and Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” are some of the best musical moments in the show.
Stillwater’s married lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Chris Wood) is having an affair with Penny, while lead singer Jeff Bebe (Drew Gehling), who is getting usurped by Hammond give us an insight into in-house fighting.
At times Almost Famous feels like a juke box musical with “Fever Dog,“Simple Man”, ”Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” maybe they should have stuck to classics. Tom Kitt’s opening number “1973” is the most successful. Anika Larsen channeling Frances McDormand gets “Elaine’s Lecture,” and “Rock stars have kidnapped my son.”
Being passed around are the “Band-Aids” (Julia Cassandra, Katie Ladner, Jana Djenne Jackson) the other groupies traveling with Stillwater. We also meet Stillwater’s new manager (Jakeim Hart), assigned by the record label and their old band manager (Gerard Canonico).
In the end, Crowe’s script seems in a past that has long been forgotten.
British director Jeremy Herrin keeps things moving, but never gives us the energy or spark until the last number staged to give all of the cast members a chance to shine. Derek McLane’s sets are basically backstage scaffolding, a house, motel room and a road map of the U.S., showing where Stillwater tours and Miller are. You know it’s bad when a small plane is the best the show has to offer.
In the end, this show hits all its marks but fails to leave an impression.
Almost Famous: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street