With star-studded leads, the Geffen Playhouse’s production of the new musical “The Lonely Few” succeeds even with a dose of familiarity.
With a book by Rachel Bonds and music and lyrics by Zoe Sarnak (“Empire Records”), the story of a Tennessee singer/songwriter named Lilia (Tony Award Winner Lauren Patten for “Jagged Little Pill”) who longs to escape the confines of her small town is certainly nothing new. Her parents are both gone, and she is forced to look after her alcoholic older brother Adam (Joshua Close), who is a loving sibling and a thorn in Lila’s side.
Her one escape is by playing in the local watering hole with her band “The Lonely Few,” which includes her distracted boss Dylan (Damon Daunno), the naïve but adorable JJ (Helen J. Shen), and the amiable bar owner/father figure Paul (Thomas Silcott).
To escape the humdrum life of a convenience store employee, Lila is in her element when she’s performing or writing songs, and it is the one true joy she has in a fairly uneventful life. But when songwriter and singer Amy (Ciara Renée “Frozen”) comes to town, everything changes for Lila, and she begins to take a hard look at her life and where she wants to be. And who she wants to be with.
“The Lonely Few” takes a nod from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in that it’s part concert, part play, part musical. The staging at the Geffen’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater puts the audience right into the action, with half of the audience seated at bar tables or at the bar itself. Most of the action occurs in or around the bar (or bars they play at), with one smaller set staged above the bar that acts as Lila and Adam’s home.
Similarly to “Hedwig,” there is a lot of music, most of which reflects the story or pushes it along. Some of the songs are performed as a part of The Lonely Few’s and Amy’s actual performances, while others take the classic musical tract and are performed as part of the narrative.
I’m happy to say that most of this works well, not only because the songs are really good, but because the actors are spectacular performing them. While many in the cast get their moment to shine in this way, it is Lauren Patten and Ciara Renée that deliver the goods in spades. With both having powerful moments in shows past, here they get to further show off their chops with some terrific songs like Lila’s love song “Always Wait for You” and Amy’s heartbroken rock ballad “You Leave Me Blind.”
There’s a lot of great stuff here, so much so I can see this playing Off-Broadway to sold-out millennial and Gen-Z crowds. The book could stand to go a bit deeper with its subject matter which hits on topics often dealt with in books, movies, and shows of the past. Incidents and developments occur without much surprise, so the audience just sort of waits for the characters to get to these moments. But it’s how they are played out that gives it the tonic that makes it special.
The direction by Trip Cullman and Elenore Scott keeps the audience continually invested and their toes tapping, the songs will get stuck in your head, and every single cast member will dazzle you in different ways.
I’m curious where these “Lonely Few” will be headed in the future.