Almost Famous
Photo: Neal Preston.

Almost Famous

Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

Book and Lyrics by Cameron Crowe

Music and Lyrics by Tom Kitt

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Old Globe link

September 13 – October 27, 2019 (Word Premiere)

The Old Globe has a certified hit on its hands with the world premiere of the musical “Almost Famous,” based on the Oscar-winning film of the same name. On stage, the production masterfully stays faithful to the original storyline while also breaking exciting new musical ground.

Set in 1973, this coming-of-age tale follows the trials, tribulations and titillation of 15-year-old William Miller (an exuberant Casey Likes) who, despite being decidedly uncool, parlays an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music and impressive writing chops to land a freelance assignment with Rolling Stone magazine to chronicle life on the road with an up-and-coming band.  

William finds a mentor in the guise of Lester Bangs (Rob Colletti, who nails the part), an acerbic rock music critic who is always home to take the kid’s phone calls because Bangs is also decidedly uncool. Finding a way backstage to meet the Stillwater band – fronted by lead guitar Russell Hammond (Colin Connell) and lead singer Jeff Bebe (Drew Gehling) – proves more problematic until William meets Penny Lane (exquisite songbird Solea Pfeiffer) leader of the Band Aids (Katie Ladner, Julia Cassandra and Storm Lever), not to be confused with groupies, thank you very much. No one can open doors and make an entrance like Penny Lane wearing her long shearling coat. 

The combined force of scenic designer Derek McLane, lighting designer Natasha Katz and sound designer Peter Hylenski turn the Old Globe stage into a believable concert venue with enough throbbing subwoofers and explosive set lighting to engage the audience in unison hand clapping before music director Brya Perri lifts his baton for the opening number. The production team also fluidly brings to life the interior of a tour bus, raucous party scenes, William’s middle-class home and a storm-tossed (hold on to your seat) plane ride.

Popular hits of the day, such as “Ramble On,” “Every Picture Tells a Story” and “Tiny Dancer,” combine with a slew of original songs that solidly propel the story by adding additional dimension to characters. Stand-out numbers include “Morocco” and “Elaine’s Lecture,” in which William’s college professor mother played by Anika Larsen, as a force of nature, repeatedly reminds one and all: “Rock stars have kidnapped my son!”

Delivering the goods on these lively and poignant numbers is a cast of outstanding singers who vocally hold nothing back.

Costume designer David Zinn pulls out all stops in outfitting 19 actors in jeans, tees, minis, feathers, hats and other era-specific garb. For example, the pink-and-orange PSA flight attendant outfit worn by William’s sister, Anita (Emily Schultheis), who left home and her overbearing mother the moment she turned 18. “You look like a popsicle,” said William, when they unexpectedly reunite in an airport terminal. The shearling coat worn by Penny Lane is a character in its own right.

In recent weeks, there’s been a hint of fall in the air. Think I’ll go shopping for a new coat.

by Lynne Friedmann

San Diego ,
Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.