In the new Almost Famous musical, Penny Lane arrives in Scene III, when Cameron Crowe’s stage direction says, “a luminous girl emerges from the shadows.” The play will spend the rest of the show chasing her—and for the past three years, so has a team of makeup pros, hair artists, costume designers, and vintage clothing hunters. “I’ve been living on Etsy since 2019,” says David Zinn, the Tony-nominated designer for the show. “Anna Sui, Missoni. Those are the dream.”
But Almost Famous has always been a dream, at least for the girls who grew up transfixed by its “Band Aids” and their careless heap of smeared, smoked-up glamour. Now 22 years after its film premiere, the story comes to Broadway, and while some music is different (think: Elton John and Led Zeppelin classics intertwined with original songs by Broadway veteran Tom Kitt), one key feeling from the film remains the same: When watching the show, you really want to pause the story and climb into it yourself. Since style is the closest thing humans get to teleports, the fashion and beauty looks in this show hit deep.
To get them, Broadway Band Aids Solea Pfeiffer (Penny Lane), Katie Ladner (Sapphire), Jana Djenné Jackson (Polexia), and Julia Cassandra (Estrella) had daily fittings for their six to eight looks, which include pieces by Saloni, Camp Collection, and Alexis Bittar, plus one pair of epically embroidered bell bottoms. “There’s a scene where I’m smoking pot,” says Ladner. “So, on my jeans, David embroidered a cockroach wearing a sweater and smoking a roach. It is the most incredible thing—this bug smoking a blunt. The details in this show are astounding.” They’re also ever-changing, thanks to some character quirks approved by Crowe himself. “We’re technically wearing something different every night,” says Cassandra, “Because for every show, I’ll match a scarf to the aura of the other Band Aids. Sometimes Katie is really pink, and sometimes Jana is really purple, you know?”
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Though the vibes—and the purple auras—are unchanged from the film, the cast is careful to point out that Broadway is a very different game, and they are therefore different players. “Our director [Jeremy Herrin] made that very clear in the beginning,” says Pfeiffer, who makes her Broadway debut in the role. “He said, ‘This isn’t an adaptation of the movie. This is another version of Cameron’s story.” And that was a relief, because obviously, I’m not Kate Hudson. I mean, I’m not white! I look nothing like her! I was given permission to really free myself and make Penny Lane my own.”
That began with her makeup, which veered more into vintage showgirl than Hudson’s babydoll rocker. “I’m a sucker for old-timey Broadway glamour,” Pfeiffer says. “To me, Broadway is Barbra [Streisand] with the tips on her nails—the long claws—and the lashes, the gloss, the lustrous hair. I have loved Broadway culture and I have watched it and wanted to embody it my whole life. I wasn’t gonna stop now! I mean, I finally got here!” There are also practical reasons for Pfeiffer’s piles of eyelashes and liquid liner. “This isn’t a movie. There’s no close-up here. I need people all the way in the back to see who Penny Lane is.”
Beauty artist Luc Verschueren created the hair and makeup for the show, and adds that Penny’s inner light emerges through Charlotte Tilbury highlighter and Urban Decay’s Almost Nude Foundation. “Penny Lane makes out a lot,” Pfeiffer laughs. “Penny Lane hugs everyone. Penny Lane cries. And at first, I was like, ‘How am I going to keep my makeup on through all of this?’ But then I was like, ‘You know, Penny Lane is living. There’s gonna be a black mascara tear. There’s gonna be lip gloss all over Russell Hammond after they kiss. He’s a rock star; he can handle it. Let’s lean into the heightened art form of theater, and of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what we’re doing here, and it’s okay. It’s beautiful!’” (Faced with multiple quick changes, the other Band Aids use liberal mists of All Nighter setting spray. “It really does the job,” says Jackson. “Polexia has these little freckles that I paint on every night to add some youth and innocence to her vibe. They’re still there by the finale.”)
To get the Band Aid look at home, Verschueren suggests starting with the hair. “If you look at all the album covers, all the magazines, the hair is what tells you, ‘I am rock ‘n’ roll,’” he says. “The easiest way to look like a Band Aid is to change your texture. You can use curlers—just rag curls in your hair—or, if you have a natural wave, you can try to bring it out. Think about Carole King—lots of women have that wavy texture of hair, but she amplified it by dry-brushing it.” For a slept-in curl, Sarah Potempa of Beachwaver recommends leaving the ends of your hair out of your iron or wand completely, which leads to a messier, sexier spiral.
As for makeup, Verschueren says that if you’re actually going to a Stillwater show or a party at the Continental Riot House, think bronze. “There’s a lot of blue light at rock concerts and nightclubs,” he says, “Which means there’s also a lot of very blue light in our show. It’s gorgeous, but for very fair people, like Katie [Ladner], the blue light makes the face go away, almost like a ghost. So I always try a warmer shade of powder, like a bronze. It might look a little strong in front of your own mirror, but when you’re out, you will look like heaven.” Ladner gets hers at Ulta, while Cassandra is a big fan of Fenty’s brown and pink palettes.
In terms of the clothes, Zinn says it’s mostly thrifted, with a few exceptions: Penny’s iconic shearling coat (“it’s part magic carpet, part theatrical show curtain”) was handmade especially for Pfeiffer in partnership with Curly Fur in Portland, Oregon. Sapphire wears a pair of star-stamped boots that were “custom-made to be as badass as possible.” (Ditto for the crochet bikini worn by Penny at a pool scene in Arizona.) And some of Polexia’s jewelry is the actress’ own. “I had my African waist beads on during my fitting,” Jackson recalls. “I thought they’d tell me to take them off for the show, but they said, ‘No, great, do you think Polexia would wear them?’ And, hell yes, my Polexia would! I mean, this Polexia is a beautiful, Black young woman in 1973 hanging out with rock stars. Of course she does!”
And what about Penny’s jeans—surely they’ve been rescued from a Goodwill in Troy, Michigan? “They’re actually Free People,” Pfeiffer laughs. “I think all the Band Aid denim is, because it’s got great stretch so we can move around on stage easily. And I love my jeans so much. I keep joking I’m gonna steal them when I leave. But I can’t, because that’s not very Penny Lane, you know? She gives way, way more than she takes.”
“Her beauty and her brain go not together.” —William Shakespeare