Musical genres do not have perfect opposites, but if heavy syncopation and electric guitar are foundational to rock, the breezy melodies and steel pan of soca music — what populates my playlists — are as close to contradiction as possible. Rock ’n’ roll is a sonic phenomenon that I was neither raised around nor grew familiar with, so who better to learn from than Lester Bangs, legendary music critic of “Creem” and “Rolling Stone” glory? A fictionalized Bangs (played by actor Rob Colletti) opens the musical “Almost Famous,” now running at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Bangs explains that the “genius of rock” is that it is “gloriously and righteously dumb.” Those seeking to glean respectability or meaning from the form suffocate it: “The day it ceases to be dumb is the day it ceases to be real.” It is a genius way of setting up a loud, flashy musical with no real stakes, while also shielding the show from that very same critique. 

When the musical’s Lester Bangs breaks down these rules of rock ’n’ roll, he is doing so to a 15-year-old boy named William Miller (Casey Likes). William is an avid student of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, et al., and aspires to be a rock journalist. Love of the form lands the cherubic but socially awkward teen his dream story: profiling the up-and-coming band Stillwater for “Rolling Stone.” William joins Stillwater on the road, and the closer he grows to them — particularly brooding frontman Russell Hammond (an earnest Chris Wood) — the murkier his goals become: Will he extol the band’s genius like his newfound friends want him to? Will he divulge the group’s arguments like his editors want him to? And — most important — will he make it back home for high school graduation as his mom (Anika Larsen) wants him to? It’s a feeble attempt to set up conflict for a musical that, inherently, has none. 

“Almost Famous” is an adaptation of Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical 2000 film, which won Crowe an Oscar and a permanent position in the hearts of Y2K-ers. Crowe lends his pen to the book and lyrics here, paired with Tom Kitt (music and lyrics). While the score does a capable job of interweaving ’70s rock staples like “Tiny Dancer” and “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” with Kitt’s original additions, the decades have done little to ground Crowe’s story in deeper conversations about the genre — the influence non-white artists had on it, for example. A sampling of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and vinyls of Aretha Franklin and James Brown used as props hardly suffice. Or how about rock music’s obsession with lionizing women as muses, but overshadowing their independent accomplishments? 

When William is first assigned the feature, he is welcomed into Stillwater’s circle by the “Band-Aids”: a group of women — led by the expectedly whimsical and beautiful ingénue Penny Lane (Solea Pfeiffer) — that travels with the band. In their own words, they are not groupies: “Groupies sleep with rock stars for the thrill. We are here because of the music.” It’s on us to take their word for it because during the production itself these women never elevate beyond positions of seductive prowess or sexual bait. Nostalgia is a powerful affection — one that is often reduced to a futile sensation but in reality draws us into the rawest of human emotions: desire, love, connection. The script hints at these sentiments (Penny and Russell have a romantic past, sexual present, unsure future) but never fleshes out its emotional touchstones, instead relying on the audience to buy in to the righteous splendor of rock for rock’s sake.

The second act of “Almost Famous” picks up the melody. The narrative drifts from the antics of the Stillwater gang to the blossoming tenderness of Penny and William’s relationship. It’s a love that blooms after Stillwater cruelly casts Penny out; William finds her and she nearly overdoses in his arms. It makes for a gorgeously tragic scene, even if the musical laid absolutely no emotional foundation for it. But while dramatic conflict may not fill up your evening at “Almost Famous,” mercifully, beauty does: All of the nothingness looks decadent. Costumes (David Zinn), scenery (Derek McLane) and lighting (Natasha Katz) swell the stage with a spirit of concert-like fun and intrigue. Director Jeremy Herrin and choreographer Sarah O’Gleby order the cast dancingly around doors, beds, frames and other set pieces that swivel in and out of view. 

If we are to heed Lester Bangs’ earlier warning, then “Almost Famous” — like the music it celebrates — defies critique. It does not, however, defy comparison. It is equal parts groovy sexiness of “Hair,” gawky coming-of-ageness of “Dear Evan Hansen” and wild artist fantasy of “Rent.” Unfortunately, when an original musical doesn’t actually have anything original to say, every note falls flat.

“Almost Famous” opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.

Review photo: Matthew Murphy.

Creative: Book by Cameron Crowe; Music by Tom Kitt; Lyrics by Cameron Crowe and Tom Kitt; Music orchestrated by Tom Kitt; Music arranged by Tom Kitt; Musical Director: Bryan Perri; Vocal Design by AnnMarie Milazzo; Directed by Jeremy Herrin; Choreographed by Sarah O’Gleby; Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by David Zinn; Lighting Design by Natasha Katz; Sound Design by Peter Hylenski; Hair, Wig and Makeup Design by Luc Verschueren; Stunt Coordination by Lorenzo Pisoni.

Produced by Lia Vollack, Michael Cassel Group and Joey Parnes; Co-produced by Columbia Live Stage, TEG Live, Crossroads Live, Stella La Rue, Sony Masterworks, MCEV, Stephen Byrd, Concord Theatricals, Roy Furman, James L. Nederlander, Paramount Pictures, Karen Tanz, John Gore Organization, Playful Productions UK, Ken and Janet Schur, Benjamin Lowy, Laszlo Bock, Ellise Coit, Cue to Cue Productions, Giocoso PTY Limited, Rob Harris, Invisible Wall Productions, Willette Klausner, NAAM US LLC, NETworks Presentations, PowerArts, Sandy Robertson, The Shubert Organization (Robert E. Wankel: Chairman and CEO; Elliot Greene: Chief Operating Officer; Charles Flateman: Executive Vice President), Universal Music Publishing Group, Universal Theatrical Group, Ray and Bernadette Wilson, Joydeep Hor, Sensee Company, Balboa Park Productions and The Old Globe (Barry Edelstein, Artistic Director; Timothy J. Shields, Managing Director).

Cast: Drew Gehling, Anika Larsen, Casey Likes, Solea Pfeiffer, Chris Wood, Matt Bittner, Chad Burris, Gerard Canonico, Julie Cassandra, Rob Colletti, Brandon Contreras, Jakeim Hart, Van Hughes, Jana Djenne Jackson, Katie Ladner, Emily Schultheis, Daniel Sovich, Libby Winters and Matthew C. Lee.