ALMOST FAMOUS: Can't be forgotten soon enough
“Almost Famous”, the 2000 American film written and directed by Cameron Crowe, is a delightful coming-of-age story, a mirthful look at young love and an ode to rock n’ roll. The new Broadway musical, all-too literally based on the movie, is none of the above. Instead, it is a static reproduction of the movie screenplay weighed down by a lifeless, non-original, Broadway-bland, ballad score.
That’s both disappointing and surprising, given the sophisticated talent involved. Crowe didn’t so much write the book and lyrics for this musical version (nor did he adapt), as much as simply transfer not only the story (partly semi-autobiographical) but also much of the dialogue almost scene-by-scene. What’s more, the screenplay dialogue is often used as song lyric. That leaves director Jeremy Herrin without much creative latitude and constrains composer Tom Kitt, who, having won the Tony and Pultzer for “Next to Normal”, is capable of more original fare. Lessons not applied here: screenplays (and the excellent one for “Almost Famous” won Crowe the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) are different from books for musicals, and film editing (and the movie was nominated for an Oscar for that, too) isn’t proscriptive of live staging. The result? “Almost Famous”, the stage musical, plods from scene to scene.
To compound matters, Kitt’s score is a seemingly endless succession of over two dozen songs that are a mush of folk/rock/pop ballad, the kind that makes many new Broadway musicals indiscernible from the others The few respites are: one memorable number in the first act, called “New Friends”; a few truncated covers of some (real) rock hits; and, some recognizable melodic riffs here and there (Kitt uses some chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to open one of the forgettable numbers). The bar is so low, the highpoint of the show is a soft-pop ensemble rendition of Elton John’s treacly “Tiny Dancer” to close Act 1.
The performers all sing adequately and then some, but the roles they play are devoid of any personality in the wooden staging and cluttered score. Too bad, because Crowe’s original characters are appealing, complex and idiosyncratic, an engaging roster of personalities that populated the rock scene in the late Sixties/ early Seventies. William Miller (Casey Likes) is a 15 year old nerd but rock music savant, who gets hired by Rolling Stone to cover a rock group called Stillwater on national tour. His mother Elaine (Anika Larsen) frets the whole show (“don’t do drugs”). Along the way. William is befriended by a cynical, done-it-all-seen-it-all rock journalist Lester Bangs (Rob Colletti) and is welcomed as one of the band (even though as press he’s “the enemy'') by Stillwater guitar lead and heartthrob Russell Hammond (Chris Wood). Russell is having an affair with teenage fan Penny Lane (Solea Pfeiffer) who, naturally, William becomes smitten with. He gets devirginized by three of Penny's girlfiend Band-Aids (“not groupies”). In the end, William’s article makes the Stone cover, and he learns a lot of life lessons
Choreography is credited to Sarah O’Gleby, but there’s little dance, and the stage movement is listless enough so as to conjure a (really) stoned company of “Hair” on a very tired road tour. The costumes yank every hippie cliche couture out of the Hollywood closet. Just stream the movie from Netflix.