What if they threw a play and a concert broke out? That’s what’s happening at the Geffen Playhouse’s world premiere musical The Lonely Few, where a Broadway-tested cast wins over the audience from the first note. The Geffen’s smaller Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater is so believable as a bar that it seems unfair that it doesn’t actually serve drinks. The show takes place all over the room, including on the bar itself, requiring audience members seated at it to swivel around to catch the action.
Tony-winner Lauren Patten tears up the stage as Lila, a talented singer-songwriter-guitarist in a small Kentucky town. By day she works at a discount grocery story and by night she plays at a dive bar with her band, the Lonely Few. The band consists of bassist Dylan (Damon Daunno), keyboardist JJ (Helen J Shen), and drummer/bar owner Paul (Thomas Silcott), with behind-the-scenes musicians led by Music Director and player Myrna Conn taking everything to the next level.
The trajectory of both Lila and her band changes radically when Amy (the riveting Ciara Renée), on tour and signed to a record label, comes to town. Impressed by the band and taken by Lila, she offers the Lonely Few a gig as her opening act for the last three weeks of her tour, ending in Nashville.
Lila briefly debates turning down the opportunity, to keep an eye on her alcoholic brother Adam (Joshua Close). But when Amy tells her, “I think you’d do quite well out there,” of course she accepts. After all, she, too, is feeling the sparks. And the harmonies those two powerhouse voices make together make the pairing inevitable.
The main storyline, a love story between Lila and Amy, feels natural; whatever Lila’s small-town issues, they don’t include any anti-gay prejudice. Race, too, essentially goes unacknowledged, reinforcing the sense that the show’s development and casting focused on talent, stage presence and chemistry, not any rigidly defined characters.
The band’s genre-defying songs, by Zoe Sarnak, are powerful and emotional, moving the story forward while standing on their own as potential hits. “I’ll Be Gone” displays Lila’s sense of freedom. “21-30” offers insights into aging. From love to loss and back again, the music leads. This is a soundtrack album I would buy.
This musical was commissioned as part of the Geffen Playhouse’s New Play Development Program. The cast, direction by Trip Cullman and Ellenore Scott, and the set, designed by Sibyl Wickersheimer, are all pitch perfect. The book, by Rachel Bonds, sometimes veers into soap opera territory, but strong acting and that great music overcomes cliches, like a pregnant girlfriend, crossed romantic wires and the inevitable brother breakdown. The Lonely Few is a room-filling and heart-filling musical celebration.
The Lonely Few, originally scheduled to close April 9, has been selling out and has been extended through April 30. April 26 has been designated as Queer Appreciation Night. The show plays Tuesday through Sunday in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Westwood. Tickets are $49-$149 and can be purchased here. Rush tickets for each day’s performance are made available to the general public one hour before showtime at the box office for $35.