$
Casey Likes Almost Famous

From The Jimmys to Broadway: Casey Likes on His Almost Famous Journey

It was The Jimmy Awards that set Broadway in motion for Casey Likes.

It was 2019. He was 17 years old, a junior at a Tempe, Arizona, high school, and had wowed casting directors in the audience with his performance of “Santa Fe” from Newsies.

It must have been his purple aura.

They were there scouting for the role of William Miller in Almost Famous; William is a 15-year-old aspiring journalist who wants to interview rock stars and follows an up-and-coming band called Stillwater. The show, which opens November 3 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, is based on the 2000 movie that mirrored the real-life experiences of a young Cameron Crowe as he started his career in journalism at Rolling Stone.

Likes says casting had just lost the actor who played the part in a workshop (to a TV show, according to Vanity Fair) and had hoped to find a teenager at The Jimmy Awards to fit the bill. The national high school musical-theater awards is named after the late producer James M. Nederlander and is held at the Minskoff Theatre every June after a week of workshops and exposure to the full world of Broadway. A week after the showcase, Likes was on a plane to Los Angeles for an audition, where he met the movie’s director and musical’s book writer and co-lyricist, Cameron Crowe, for the first time.

Casey Likes and Solea Pfeiffer in Almost Famous. Photo by Matt Murphy.
Casey Likes and Solea Pfeiffer in Almost Famous. Photo by Matt Murphy.

“I don’t exactly remember the first thing he said. I don’t want to misquote him,” Likes says of their conversation from three years ago. “But the last thing he said to me was when we were singing the melody [of the new Almost Famous song “No Friends”] back and forth to each other until Jim Carnahan, the casting director, basically shooed me out the door. We were still singing the song back to each other as he closed the door on my face.”

Clearly, Crowe saw something in him. Three weeks after The Jimmy Awards, Likes was officially cast at William Miller for the fall 2019 out-of-town tryout at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. He completed his senior year of high school online.

The musical was aiming for Broadway in 2020, on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the film. But for obvious reasons, it wasn’t able to open until now.

Now 20 years old, Likes was afraid the role would pass him by while waiting for the pandemic to end, and he did everything he could not to visibly age shy of “a cryo chamber and freezing myself,” he jokes. “They literally got me when I was 17 and I could barely grow hair on my chest.” To preserve his youth, Likes reveals he dieted to stay skinny and followed a good but basic face-wash skincare routine. Fortunately, he says, he only grew about half an inch.

Emily Schultheis, Anika Larsen, and Casey Likes in Almost Famous. Photo by Matt Murphy.
Emily Schultheis, Anika Larsen, and Casey Likes in Almost Famous. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Living up to the expectations of a brilliant performance already captured on screen can be daunting, but Likes feels he’s mastered William in his own way. “At the beginning of rehearsals in 2019, I was kind of stuck in my admiration of what Patrick Fugit did in the movie. I had a very specific conversation with director [Jeremy Herrin], Cameron, and a couple of other cast members, specifically Anika Larsen and Emily Schultheis, who plays the rest of the Miller family, about how now is the time to drop Patrick’s performance from my head because we’re creating something different. When I had finally accepted that in my head, I just focused all my energy into getting to know Cameron as much as I possibly could.” The two have spent countless hours together, from lunches to dinners.

One mannerism Likes tries to emulate is how he says Crowe makes people feel like they’re the only person in the room when he’s talking to them. “I think that is such an admirable quality,” Likes says.

The experience of a Broadway debut being his first professional role doesn’t weigh heavily on Likes. In fact, he says it weighs on him the right amount. After all, musical theater runs in his family. His mom was a double cover for Eponine and Cosette in Les Misérables on Broadway. It’s how he caught the “bug” as a toddler.

And the Jimmy Awards has helped too. “I remember looking at Jimmy Awards week thinking this is the biggest, most tiring, and star-studded week on Broadway that anyone will ever have. I realized my first week of rehearsals for Almost Famous that this is every week of being in a Broadway show. [The Jimmy Awards] prepared me for a lot of work and long hours. But it also prepared me for what it’s like to meet your heroes every single day,” he admits of meeting Broadway stars such as Jessica Vosk and Brandon Victor Dixon in the rehearsal studio.

Casey Likes and the cast of Almost Famous. Photo by Matt Murphy.
Casey Likes and the cast of Almost Famous. Photo by Matt Murphy.

“I really don’t think I will process this fully until many, many years from now. I think that’s a good and a bad thing. The good part about it is that I’m able to not let it get too out of my control. I can take it all in slowly, but not let it blow my brain up,” he says. “The first preview, I had to convince myself that I was just performing for another theatre in Arizona, where I’m from, because it just got too big for me. This has always been a dream for me, but also I’ll appreciate it even more later.”

Learn More About Almost Famous