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Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Grown” At Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Saturday, October 29th, 2022, Reviewed

Somebody said that watching Cameron Crowe’s rock n roll coming of age maxi infestation on Broadway, “Almost Famous” is like taking a time machine back to the 1970s and perhaps so if nobody smoked in the 1970s, and consistently made insipid, irony dripping with silliness (“do you think I can take my phone everyone?” one of the members of the fictional and awful rock and blues band Stillwater notes when his wife asks why she can never reach him) comments, and if the music was a hack driven hearts to classic rock.

“Almost Famous” isn’t the 70s, it isn’t rock, it certainly isn’t Crowe’s movie made whole (and is not even close to his “Fast Times In Ridgewood High”). What it is is a variant on Alanis Morrisette’s excellent and gone and lamented “Jagged Little Pill”. Music, lyrics, orchestration Tom Kitt was also responsible for music supervision on “Jagged Little Pill” and “American Idiot” and none of the skills survived to the transition.

“Almost Famous” is the story of William Miller (Casey Likes, the Cameron Crowe stand-in at a fifteen: Casey looks his real age, 21) who after writing for his local paper got a help from rock critic Yoda Lester Bangs (played by, wait for it, Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie in a small part that towers over everyone else), gets an assignment to cover an up and coming band Stillwater (on their third album, and still up and coming?) for Rolling Stone and finds the band fallin apart on tour. By the end, the lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup was a sex god in the movie, we got understudy Van Hughes) is calling up Rolling Stone and admitting he said the words in the interview he had denied.

Casting isn’t the only problem here but if it is one thing to get the casting wrong , it is something else entirely to get the groupie who loves Russell and befriends William miscast. The role made Kate Hudson a superstar overnight and Solea Pfeiffer is alright but she lacks the charisma to turn the world on its head, on stage she can’t get the gentleness quite right and her relationship with William lacks credibility.

The staging is a little threadbear though the Russian Doll stages within stages is pleasant, the songs are uniformly dreadful, the Elton John singalong (“Tiny Dancer”) never worked for me at all but it is Mozart compared to the doubled up anthems “It’s All Happening” and “Everything’s Coming Together”, not to mention the big ballad “The Night Time Sky’s Got Nothing On You”, only one song really works, “Elaine’s Lecture” (aka: “Rockstars Have Kidnapped My Son). The music only gets you off on any degree during the covers (it was initially meant to be all covers), “It Ain’t Easy” and “Midnight Rider”, “Higher Ground” and “The Wind” are the best of the bunch. The soundtrack is all 70s hits and in the old school Creem Vs Rolling Stone, Creem beats Stone senseless here.

I appreciate Creem, or rather, Lester Bangs, being the centrifugal moral force on the sideline with advise, pretty good advise, as to what it takes to be a rock critic: number one being don’t become friends with the rock stars you cover. It makes Bangs the anti-Dave Marsh if nothing else and nothing to take away the pleasure in seeing the actor Rob Coletti leading with his Boy Howdy tee shirt. And I appreciate my teens and early 20s immortalized. But I don’t believe it, not quite. While rock criticism was a huge influence on me during the 1970s, no one else seemed to buy the rock critic as superstar. Three groupies did not take my virginity in Greenville, Louisiana. Between being written by a man who did his first Allman Brothers cover story for Stone also at the age of fifteen, and who went onto stardom as a writer and a director (and now a musical lyricist), and the holography of the seventies, it sneaks a piece of stuff here and there as they perform bad 70s rock based on fair to good Taupin-John and Gregg Allman.

Anything else: man, it is easy to miss Lester Bangs if not Ben Fong Torres, especially after hearing Bangs completely con Ben from a distance. Now that is believable.

Grade: C-

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