The cast of Broadway’s new musical “Almost Famous” tends to refer to one another as “almost family.”
That phrase was shared repeatedly on a recent Friday afternoon at the Jacobs Theatre where the production remains in previews ahead of a Nov. 3 opening night.
Many of the company members have been with the musical through its various stages of development, with some dating back to the first reading in 2018. Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, the cast and creatives have remained bonded by the show’s themes as well as their real-life experiences.
Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical movie “Almost Famous,” which premiered in 2000, is widely regarded as the writer’s most personal work. But the cast says that bringing the story to a Broadway stage hasn’t changed its heart and, if anything, has deepened it.
With movies, “people copter in and copter out,” Crowe told Broadway News. But with the musical, for which he wrote the book and lyrics, he’s had the opportunity to spend time with and truly come to know those performers.
One of them, Casey Likes, is making his Broadway debut, playing William Miller, the young journalist based on Crowe.
“We just got lunch the other day and we were talking about how special it is that we have so much time with each other,” Likes said. “I’ve had three years with Cameron and we’ve really gotten close in that time. He’s one of my best friends. And I’m just so thankful that I get to tell his story. I really know him, and hopefully, that translates.”
Crowe echoed that sentiment, recalling that same lunch where the two acknowledged how much they enjoy spending time together.
“I really feel like I can be myself around you,” Crowe remembered saying to Likes.
In some ways, the relationships that blossomed between cast, crew and creatives were a result of the show’s hiatus brought on by the pandemic. The production was riding a wave of positive feedback into 2020 following a 2019 world premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe when the industry came to a halt.
“We had so much excitement around us in San Diego, so much wind in our sails, and suddenly the wind dies out — instantly,” said Anika Larsen, who plays Elaine Miller.
Despite “languishing” for two and a half years, as Larsen added, she had no doubt the show would eventually land on Broadway.
“I always knew that this show was going to happen. I was never worried. It’s too good for it to not have happened.”
To have the pandemic land in the middle of their journey “makes us all so much more grateful to be here, so much happier to be sharing this story,” she said.
“And it also makes the themes of the show ring so much more loudly and beautifully.”
One of those themes, present onstage and off, is family. Several cast members, including Rob Colletti, noted the cast’s aforementioned expression among each other as “almost family.”
Colletti, who plays Lester Bangs in the musical, believes that having retained the majority of the cast throughout the developmental stages has been “the root of all of the success, truly.”
“The cast embodies the spirit that you can feel Cameron looked for very intently and it has translated into this really beautiful offstage relationship. That shared experience really does reflect on and adds to what, ultimately, I think is Cameron’s goal which is to show how music brings people together.”
Crowe, who shared that he’s been attending every preview performance and spending as much time as possible at the theater, grew nostalgic thinking that soon the production will be frozen and the creative team will disperse. Still, he remains enamored by the process.
“I’m amazed at how much it’s like when I loved a band and would follow the band around in the day because every show is different,” he said. “And I never realized at the beginning, that theater is that alive. It’s like the music morphs, the show morphs, the scenes morph. It’s thrilling.”
Crowe shared that one of the things he’s most proud of with this production is the way his mother’s legacy is present onstage each night. Alice Crowe, who passed away in 2019, is represented onstage as Elaine Miller, played by Larsen.
“The spirit of my mom is just right there every night. And she deserved that,” Crowe said. “She moved a lot of people as a counselor and as a teacher and she’s still teaching. It’s what she wanted. She was put on earth to do it, so I’m happy to be the middleman.”
“Oh there’s no doubt we’re a family,” Larsen said. “It’s not lost on me the weight, the importance of playing Cameron’s mom. Playing his actual mom.”
“I’m grateful for his trust. And grateful to be playing such a fierce, badass mother.”