Casey Likes on living out his character's life in 'Almost Famous' on Broadway

Likes makes his Broadway debut as William Miller in the musical adaptation of Cameron Crowe's Oscar-winning film.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Casey Likes is almost famous. That's thanks to Almost Famous. The 20-year-old actor is taking on Patrick Fugit's role, of wide-eyed journalist William Miller, in the musical adaptation of Cameron Crowe's cult classic film about the '70s rock scene. And as if making his Broadway debut in a buzzy new musical wasn't enough, Likes is about to hit the big screen as Gene Simmons of KISS in the biopic Spinning Gold.

Clearly, he's on a rock kick. Likes has been with Almost Famous since 2019, when casting directors saw his performance at the Jimmy Awards for high school theatre actors. It's fitting that Likes was plucked from high school to play William, as the character (loosely based on Crowe himself) skips high school to cover a rock band's tour for Rolling Stone.

Getting easily starstruck is William's journalistic weakness, but that quality makes Likes perfect to act the part. "The cast likes to make fun of me because on the first day of rehearsal, and to this day, I brought in a backpack covered in Playbills," he said. "Most of the cast have been in most of the shows on the backpack."

New York Theatre Guide talked to Likes about these parallels and more, what Almost Famous movie fans can expect from the show, and what he's learned from playing two major rock roles.

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How did you first get the role of William Miller?

I was asked to go in for a few shows after the Jimmy Awards. One of those shows ended up being Almost Famous, and I really, really, really wanted it. I got a little too attached to it.

The day I left my final callback, they called me and asked me to be William and then said, "You're starting in two weeks." Two weeks later, I would start school. So I actually only attended one day of my senior year of high school... and then I left and I never came back. I basically just skipped the first semester to do the show, and then the second semester, Covid happened.

What fan-favorite moments are replicated on stage?

Mostly everything that you're looking forward to is in the show. A certain Elton John song might appear at some point. You can also come to expect all of the iconic lines you remember. "I am a golden god," "It's all happening" — that's used quite a bit.

In Almost Famous, William talks his way backstage to get access to his first gig. Have you ever talked your way into a role?

The big role I talked myself into was Gene Simmons. The director asked me, "Before I take my other meetings, can you tell me why this role is yours? Convince me."

[I asked myself,] "How would Gene Simmons answer this question?" Would he be like, "I don't know. Maybe I'll learn bass. Maybe I can do this for you." No! Gene Simmons would be like, "The role is mine, and you're not going to find anyone else for it. I'm the most qualified."

I just went on a 5-10 minute rant about how qualified I was. I had my ego in the stratosphere. And it worked. He gave me the role right there.

I really admire that about Gene. He put a lot of bets on himself. He was just like, "I'm going to be there." That's what you've got to do a lot in this industry — just say, "Someday I'm going to be there, and I'm going to plant the seeds now."

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How did your work on Almost Famous inform your approach to Spinning Gold or vice versa, since they're both rock stories?

They're both taking place in the 70s. They're both about music at the time. And they both discuss very similar themes when it comes to the personalities in music at the time. I love Gene. It's really cool to study an actual person, whereas Almost Famous is an amalgamation of a lot of people.

It was really cool to play the other side of the table. I'm a fan in Almost Famous, but it was cool to deep dive and be the actual rock star for a little bit.

Can you talk about the parallels between you and William? The show is about his big writing break. This gig is your actual big Broadway break.

I got picked out of high school at 17, same as Patrick in the movie, and same as Cameron in life. Not only am I doing this show, but I'm also having these experiences outside of the show: moving to a new city, living with people that are older than me and that being most of my group around me, learning about friendship and love and and sacrifice. Those things have paralleled my experience of doing the show.

I had to say goodbye to my mom to move out here. I lived with my mom my whole life. That's exactly what Cameron and William do. I have a single mother; she's my biggest hero. I could go on forever. It's just such a universal tale of what it means to find your tribe, find your place, to grow up.

Did your mom see the show in San Diego?

A million times. My family, I think, was 50% of the ticket sales in the Old Globe. They definitely saw it, and they're definitely going to see it a few more times. She loved it. It was very special to her because she was on Broadway as well, in Les Misérables — she was a double cover of Eponine and Cosette. I always wanted to be like her, so it was really cool getting her to see me do that. Outside my dressing room window is the Imperial [Theatre], where she did the show.

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Did Cameron Crowe give you guidance on playing a version of him?

The short answer is no; he never imparted himself on me at all. However, he is in the room every single day. He is the book writer of the show, so he literally is a part of the process from beginning to the end. There was a very important discussion that happened early on in 2019, where we were trying to figure out what my version of William would be. I was stuck between Patrick's brilliant performance... and what we needed to do for a stage production of it.

I remember thinking, "I don't know why I'm thinking about the movie at all when the guy is right there. All I have to do is just really get to know him and study everything that he is. Then I will begin to understand William, aside from the previous iteration of it." Through that process, I've become just the biggest fan of him. I don't think I'll ever find a day where Cameron Crowe is not one of the most important people in my life. I love him so very deeply.

So what is your version of William?

The important things about William are innocence, openness, fandom, and passion, whether it be for love, or for music, or for his writing. There's a connective tissue in passion and music and love and writing. Even though I might not make the exact same smile or eyebrow raise that Patrick made on a certain line in the movie, we still should feel connected because we both feel the same way about the world.

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This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Top image credit: Casey Likes (center) and the company of Almost Famous. (Photo by Matthew Murphy) Second image credit: Casey Likes and Solea Pfeiffer in Almost Famous in San Diego. (Photo by Neal Preston) Third image credit: Casey Likes and Anika Larsen, who plays Mrs. Miller, in rehearsal for Almost Famous. (Photo by Krista Schuelter)

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