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New Musical ‘Almost Famous’ Isn’t Even Almost Great



NEW YORK — Warning: Don’t re-watch the 2000 film “Almost Famous” if you plan to see “Almost Famous,” the new Broadway musical. Because the film is too good. And the stage version is so much worse.

Comparisons are anathema but seem inevitable in the case of this musical, which marked its official Broadway opening Thursday night at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre. Cameron Crowe, who wrote and directed the film, along with Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson, recycles the script, including large chunks of dialogue, for the Broadway incarnation. And although Tom Kitt – winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his own highly original musical, “next to normal” – collaborated with Crowe on new songs, the show is nothing more than a pale rewind of what happened on screen.

Broadway is afflicted with an annoying habit, which must seem in spit sessions full of marketing opportunities: taking a known amount of film and bringing it to life. (It’s “live” with a long “i”. Direct, with a short “i” is a whole different level of challenge.) Set in 1973, the year I graduated from high school, “Almost Famous” feels like baby boomer bait , a group nostalgic for the heyday of rock.

But the musical, mounted on a sparse stage and directed with little inspiration by Jeremy Herrin, fails to capitalize on the key ingredient that made the film an icon of a remarkable era: its ability to evoke tumult. , the intensity and romance of a touring band at the end of an era. As once again distilled through the experiences of William Miller (Casey Likes of the beautiful voice), the 15-year-old who lands a Rolling Stone magazine assignment, the story misses his deft cinematic performances, his jubilant sense of chaos .

A pleasant rock score, enlivened by film tunes by Elton John, Gregg Allman, Nancy Wilson and others, occasionally backs “Almost Famous”, especially in the rhythmic production number, “1973”, which opens the show . Crowe and Kitt complement the songs of the story’s fictional band, Stillwater, with character-driven ballads for the likes of Penny Lane (Solea Pfeiffer), who would rather call herself a “Band Aid” than answer the call. one of the best and most nostalgic musical additions, “Morocco,” expands on Penny’s mysterious reflection on her next escape from monotonous reality.

But this release with “Almost Famous” never quite manages to make us love Penny and the other Band Aids: Julia Cassandra, Katie Ladner and Jana Djenne Jackson embody them, all dressed in period pop by David Zinn. “They took the mud and the guts out of rock and roll,” says Lester Bangs, the real-life rock critic played here by Rob Colletti, as he lectures the budding journalist on rock’s decline. Bangs materialize periodically to amplify the notion of a music writer’s responsibilities, and as with Band Aids, the character is rather awkwardly imposed on the proceedings. The elements and personalities of the production never fully coalesce.

Chris Wood plays the central role of Russell Hammond, the charismatic guitarist of Stillwater. Drew Gehling is Jeff Bebe, the group’s greedy (and too transparent as a comedy movie) frontman. And Anika Larsen is William’s bossy mother, Elaine. All must step into towering shoes (inhabited wonderfully in the film by, respectively, Crudup, Jason Lee, and Francis McDormand.) Not that there’s no room for new interpretation, but the characters belonged so memorably to their creators that these actors were bequeathed almost impossible tasks.

You see, I shouldn’t have watched the movie again. Here, Herrin, Crowe and company re-enact the defining moments: the band members’ confessions as their plane to the next gig hits a severe thunderstorm, Russell on an acid roof, telling the crowd below that he’s a ” golden god.” Basically, all these recreations remind us is that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery.

almost known, book by Cameron Crowe, music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Crowe and Kitt. Directed by Jeremy Herrin. Choreography, Sarah O’Gleby; sets and video, Derek McLane; musical direction, Bryan Perri. With Brandon Contreras, Matt Bittner, Emily Schultheis. About 2h30. At the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St., New York. download.com.