Theater Review: THE LONELY FEW (World Premiere Musical at the Geffen Playhouse in L.A.)

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by Tony Frankel on March 21, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


Prior to Geffen Playhouse’s world premiere musical The Lonely Few, a pair of orange ear-plugs in ironically loud cellophane is offered to patrons, indicating a loud show will soon be upon us. We enter the amazingly transformed Audrey Skirball Kennis black-box theater, which now has patrons seated at pub tables in front of a stage and on stools at a bar which perfectly screams mid-west rural country (we are in Kentucky).

Ciara Renée

I’ve been to such places in Kentucky, Nashville and Austin, where you watch bands that are better than most top-40 hitmakers, bands such as The Lonely Few, made up of frontwoman/guitarist Lila (the electrifying Lauren Patton, Tony-winner for Jagged Little Pill), electric bassist Dylan (the charismatic, dynamic Damon Daunno of Kneehigh Theatre Company and Tony-nominee for Daniel Fish’s new Oklahoma!); drummer Paul (the always surprising and chameleonic Thomas Silcott); and keyboardist JJ (funny, sweet Helen J Shen).

Ciara Renée, Lauren Patten and Geffen patrons

Lila has a dead-end job as a clerk at a grocery store that her best friend Dylan manages. She gets in trouble for talking with her brother, Adam (Joshua Close), a lost alcoholic with whom she has a co-dependent relationship, more so since their mom died. The only good times in this town arrive when singer/songwriter Lila and soon-to-be-a-dad Dylan hit the stage at a local bar run by Paul. They improvise intros and interact with audience members (yuck), reminding us to yell louder when the ask, “Are you up for some fun?” or something to that effect.

Damon Daunno and Lauren Patten

And once the concert begins, the lighting looks more like a Space Mountain Rock Concert than a bar in the country. Already, I sense contextual trouble with Rachel Bonds’ book and the odd choices of co-directors Trip Cullman and Ellenore Scott, but once super-hot Lauren Patton starts to rock with her inimitable voice and captivating presence, I am gobsmacked not just by the actors playing their own instruments but by Zoe Sarnak’s composition, “God of Nowhere.” (Caveat: Turns out I don’t need the ear plugs after all — just a cheat sheet to help with muddled lyrics.)

Lauren Patten, Damon Daunno, Helen J Shen, Ciara Renée, and Thomas Silcott

So, into the honkytonk strolls a successful backup singer and songwriter, Amy (powerful, smooth Ciara Renée), who is just coming into her own as a soloist. But being an openly gay Black woman in the South is making her career trying, even as she gets gigs. Amy and Lila fall in love at first sight. After accompanying herself on guitar with the beautiful ballad “She,” Amy offers the band the opportunity to open for her during a small-town tour that ends up in Nashville.

Lauren Patten and Joshua Close

Sadly, Act I contains heaps of exposition as the songs are performed not as extensions of dialogue, but as standalone bar songs. Character development is spotty, even as we begin to get a sense within the simple love story (“Girl gets Girl,” etc.) of the lamentable agitation in a no-win situation. Then Act II starts vacillating between a book musical and club performances. Midway in the second act, the show just feels heavy-handed — even the eleven o’clock number is a somber ballad, “Always Wait for You,” given a gut-punching rendition by Patton. The discrepancies in this book hybrid — not to mention a fourth-wall breaking “This is for all of us” before a song — was making me itch to get out of the theater.

Thomas Silcott

And even though the lights by Adam Honoré are often incongruous to the action, the fixtures are gorgeous, and the colors are awesome, making Sybil Wickersheimer‘s entire set look like an art installation. There isn’t one clunker out of Sarnak’s nineteen stupendous songs (four are reprises), which are in the style of alt-country, garage band, and heartland rock, from tender ballads to raw and raucous. And with Myrna Conn’s tight music direction, and her own four-piece band  backstage … I mean, understage … the house is awash in hits. If you attend this show for any reason, Sarnak’s score sung by truly terrific talent would be it. To be fair, until the book and direction coalesce, there aren’t many other reasons to attend.

Ciara Renée, Lauren Patten, and Helen J Shen

photos by Jeff Lorch

Damon Daunno

The Lonely Few
Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater
10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Tues-Thurs at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on April 9, 2023 EXTENDED to April 30, 2023
for tickets ($39-129), call 310.208.2028 or visit Geffen Playhouse

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jordon Julien March 22, 2023 at 9:21 am

I agree with your review 100%. I’d just like to add my 2 cents worth:

How many times does the book have to mention who owns the bar, refer to the unseen nephew bartender, and mention that one character’s father owns the “Pick-and-Slave”?


Tony Frankel March 22, 2023 at 1:32 pm

You know, Jordon, that bugged me as well. I thought, ‘maybe they think repeating is a form of comedy’ or ‘that’s how Kentucky folk talk’ — but the book should be scrapped and completely rewritten around the songs — just like a jukebox musical would do. THEN fix those darn sound issues.


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