“Rockstars have kidnapped my son!” Almost Famous takes the stage on Broadway


(from left) Katie Ladner as Sapphire, Solea Pfeiffer as Penny Lane, Casey Likes as William Miller, Julia Cassandra as Estrella, and Storm Lever as Polexia. Almost Famous, a world-premiere musical with book and lyrics by Cameron Crowe, based on the Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures Motion Picture written by Cameron Crowe; directed by Jeremy Herrin, with original music and lyrics by Tom Kitt; runs September 13 – October 27, 2019 at The Old Globe. Photo by Neal Preston.

Almost Famous is a coming-of-age story following 15-year-old William Miller, who begins writing for Rolling Stone, following the mid-level band, Stillwater. Despite the movie being a work of fiction, every event and character depicted are inspired by the real experiences collected by writer and director Cameron Crowe in his early days of journalism, following and writing about musicians like Bob Dylan and David Bowie, however the band itself is inspired by his time with The Eagles, The Allman Brothers, and Led Zepplin.

Almost Famous North American theatrical release poster

When William embarks on this journey of self-discovery, disguising his age from both Rolling Stone and the friends he makes along the way —friends that he was warned not to make— given the nickname “the enemy”  by Russel Hammond, lead guitarist of Stillwater. His overprotective and worried mother urges him home, though he does not want to lose the five-thousand dollars he was promised for completing the article. Desperate for up-front and raw information for his article, William has to extend his stay with the band on tour, ultimately causing him to miss his high school graduation. He experiences the struggles of life on the road, seeing the band fight, with both each other and those around them, having to follow after Russel during a mishap with the band, desperate to find information for his article, it even comes to a point where they are almost in a plane crash, with every passenger admitting secrets they had cautioned to tell, simultaneously ruining and fixing the band’s problems. 

This almost plane crash gives William the golden opportunity to start his article with the shocking headline about how he almost died alongside the band. However, when the fact-checker at Rolling Stone asks the band about the contents of the article, they deny it all as they felt it made them sound like shallow, terrible people.

Along the way, he meets a group of music-loving girls who call themselves the Band-Aids, who follow Stillwater and other bands around on tour. Close in age, William becomes close friends with them, more importantly with the infamous Band-Aid, Penny Lane. 

The original film, released in 2000, won an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, and had two nominations under the category Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Kate Hudson (Penny Lane), and Francis McDormand (Elaine Miller), as well as Best Film Editing. 

With the story being such a raw, witty, and heartfelt look into life on the road, I was worried about the way it would adapt to the Broadway stage.

Still in previews as of October 2022 at Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, I had the chance of seeing the musical before its opening night on November 3rd. Being one of my favorite films, I was ecstatic that I had the opportunity to see the musical during my time in New York City. Surprisingly, I felt as if the play adapted the movie almost perfectly, and depicted the 70s thrill of the film even better.

The musical’s cast, consisting of Casey Likes as William Miller, his Broadway debut, Solea Pfeiffer as Penny Lane, Chris Wood as Russel Hammond, and Drew Gehling as Jeff Bebe, gave an exceptional and accurate performance in portraying the film’s original characters. The musical’s runtime of 2 hours, which is the same as the film, allows for every important scene and pivotal moment to be included from the adaptation of screen to stage. Despite the film being emersed in the music scene, one concern I had before seeing the musical was whether or not the musical numbers would feel out of place or awkward. With the mix of original numbers and 70s classics like “Ramble On,” by Led Zepplin, and “Rivers,” by Joni Mitchell, this was the exact opposite case. The musical even included an exact scene from the film, after a fight between the band over who really runs the show, the band as well as the crew, including William and the Band-Aids, join together on their tour bus to sing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” One of the most beloved and important scenes in the film, it was noticeable how important it was for the writers to include this moment on stage.

When William first attends a show in San Diego, where he meets Stillwater as they are opening for Black Sabbath, during the musical, the stage was completely transformed and felt like a real concert, with dimmed lights and the cast actually playing live instruments along to Stillwater’s newly released single, “Fever Dog.”

I loved the authenticity of the musical, with the inclusion of original, fan-favorite lines from the movie, like Russel’s infamous almost-last-words, “And you can tell Rolling Stone magazine that my last words were … I’m on drugs!” as well as one of, if not the most famous line from the movie spoken to William by Penny Lane,

“If you never get hurt, you always have fun. And if you ever get lonely, you can just go to the record store and visit your friends.”

Not only does the musical hold authenticity of the movie, but of the era as well. Costume director David Zinn explained to Entertainment Weekly how they built each individual character’s wardrobe with authentic 70s vintage pieces. The same was done for the original 2000 movie, which holds its legitimacy to the era.

Overall, If I have not made it clear already, I felt that the musical did the perfect job of portraying the characters and the story itself as well as keeping true to the era. The audience was full of laughter and stayed engaged, despite the fact that I was one of the youngest viewers in the audience.

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  • The lead cast, including Noah Taylor, Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Fairuza Balk, Jason Lee and Anna Paquin, in front of Stillwater’s tour bus (Rex)

  • The cast for the musical “Almost Famous,” which made its world premiere in 2019 at the Old Globe in San Diego. Neal Preston

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