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Theater Review: “Almost Famous”

“Almost Famous” plays through October 27, 2019 at the Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Photo credit:
Neal Preston

A prediction: The next smash-hit musical that will almost surely hit Broadway in the near future is in its world premiere through Oct. 27 at the Old Globe Theatre.

San Diegan Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical musical “Almost Famous,” based on his hit 2000 movie, tells the story of Crowe as a 15-year-old rock fan, dedicated to the music and determined to become a music journalist.

Gutsy? You bet. But people who love music do so with unrestrained love and the desire to either make it or be around it all the time. So the kid persevered and eventually made it to the big time, with a “Rolling Stone” cover story to his credit. But it didn’t just happen. The film tells the story.

When Crowe decided to make a musical of the story, he wrote the book, then recruited excellent help: Tom Kitt as composer. Crowe and Kitt share billing as lyricists.

The show captivated me from the first scene. How can you not love a kid who doggedly goes after his dream? And how about the great early scenes when Crowe’s stand-in William Miller (Casey Likes) knocks on the dressing-room door of his target band Stillwater, only to be told to “go to the top of the ramp....with the girls.”

What could be more demeaning than that? (remember, this is 1973 and society isn’t “woke” yet.)

But those girls are collectively known as the Band-Aids, led by Penny Lane (Solea Pfeiffer) and played by Katie Ladner, Storm Lever and Julia Cassandra, who insist they are not groupies, but they do travel (and sometimes sleep) with the band.

Penny and William have a mutual attraction, which leads to her particularly lovely ballad “Morocco” (where she wants to go).

William also gets to meet well-known critic Lester Bangs (Robert Colletti), and keeps talking to anyone he can find until he finally talks to enough musicians (or close friends of musicians) to impress them with his knowledge of the rock music field. At that point, they relax and William gets what he wants: he ends up touring with the fictional Stillwater band.

William’s mom Elaine (Anika Larsen) worries about him (in a great song in which she claims that “rock stars kidnapped my son”), while his sister Anita (Emily Schultheis), before she moves out of the house, gives William her collection of LPs, with this comment: “One day you’ll be cool.”

“Almost Famous” is basically a coming-of-age tale with more than 30 great songs, a wonderful Broadway-style look, an excellent cast and terrific tech work.

Derek McLane’s terrific set is (watch for the airplane) is augmented by David Zinn’s fine costumes, Natasha Katz’s terrifically atmospheric lighting and Peter Hylenski’s sound design.

But mostly, this is just a fun show to watch. Special kudos to Casey Likes, just out of high school himself, who plays William with the poise of an old hand and keeps the audience rooting for him. But that’s not to stiff the rest of the excellent cast, all of whom are wonderful.

Bravo to Crowe, the cast, the rest of the production team and the Old Globe for another winner.

The details

“Almost Famous” plays through October 27, 2019 at the Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org