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‘The Lonely Few’ redefines audience-performer relations for high-energy musical

Ciara Renée (left) and Lauren Patten (right) play Amy and Lila in “The Lonely Few.” The Geffen Playhouse production will run until April 30. (Courtesy of Jeff Lorch)

“The Lonely Few”

March 2 - April 30 

Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

$59 - $149

By Maya Vibhakar

April 19, 2023 6:15 p.m.

“The Lonely Few” is hitting all the right notes – loudly.

Zoe Sarnak and Rachel Bonds’ rock musical, which marks the Geffen Playhouse’s first commission since 2020, delivers a deafening narrative about two lesbian artists navigating their feelings for one another and their desire to succeed in the music industry. Running until April 30 in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, the musical revolves around Lila (Lauren Patten), a young lesbian woman working as a Save-A-Lot clerk in rural Kentucky while moonlighting as the lead singer of her band The Lonely Few. With a cast of distinctive characters and an undeniably skilled set of performers behind them, “The Lonely Few” roars to life and successfully transports audiences into the world of rock.

From the moment audience members enter the theater, it is clear that the set design of “The Lonely Few” is what sets this show apart from other modern musicals. The already small-scale Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater has been converted into a bar that resembles an authentic Southern joint – attendees are seated at barstools by the counter, at tables spread throughout the area, or in armchairs complete with rustic pillows.

[Related: Theater review: Tense family dynamics, secrets boil over in ‘The First Deep Breath’]

Though a low stage has been constructed upfront, the performers are clearly not confined to the platform, as many of the characters belt out numbers in the walkways, jump onto tables or jam on top of the bar counter while interacting with audience members. With this unique set, “The Lonely Few” blurs the lines between who is a part of the audience and who is a part of the show, creating an environment that allows its performers to thrive in such an intimate setting.

Right from the first song, The Lonely Few band makes it known that they deserve to show off their talents in more than a janky Kentucky bar. Still, making it out of the quiet town seems impossible, especially for Lila, who finds herself responsible for her brother (Joshua Close) struggling with substance abuse. However, an opportunity arises when Amy (Ciara Renée), an emerging singer-songwriter in the midst of her first solo tour, brings the band on as her opening act.

While the classic underdog plot is enough to enamor the audience, the fierce chemistry between Lila and Amy adds even more pressure to the story and highlights the dramatic talents of its two leads. From that moment on, audiences are in store for an electrifying narrative of characters grappling with musical passion, romantic tension and looming responsibility.

The entire cast of “The Lonely Few” bursts with talent, but Patten and Renée’s jaw-dropping performances, both vocally and dramatically, shine through as the heart and soul of this musical. Not only do their vocals prove to audiences why they are considered some of Broadway’s best, but the raw emotion they bring to their characters has audiences quickly empathizing with these two protagonist lovers.

Damon Daunno, Helen J Shen and Thomas Silcott – who portray the other eclectic members of The Lonely Few – are also undeniably skilled performers, especially since they not only deliver powerhouse rock vocals but provide most of the instrumental performances that bring the musical to life. Even Close, who does not contribute to the musical prowess happening onstage, masters the likeability and charisma necessary for audiences to understand why Lila might decide to give it all up for her brother.

With Patten and Renée at the forefront of this story alongside the four other skilled cast members, these actors’ compelling performances add depth to each character that allows the audience to overlook the occasionally thin script. While many of the other Geffen Playhouse productions of the 2022-23 season, such as “The Inheritance” or “The First Deep Breath,” have prided themselves on bringing complex stories and intricate dialogue to the stage, “The Lonely Few” is a simpler story that aims to entertain more than provoke discourse. Though this is a more than attainable goal for a high-energy rock musical, the show’s simplicity sometimes leads to seemingly arbitrary conflict between characters, advancing the plot at the expense of understandable character motivations.

[Related: Theater review: Modernized ‘Mean Girls’ delivers entertainment but proves the limit does exist]

Additionally, many of the musical numbers are presented as songs by The Lonely Few band, meaning that unlike many other traditional musicals, most of the plot advancement and character development are constrained to dialogue outside of the songs. However, this is not necessarily a weakness, as this decision makes the audience feel as if they are attending a live concert from a real band.

Once again, the Geffen Playhouse has delivered a captivating, high-quality production with electrifying musical performances in a unique setting that makes up for any shortcomings in the script. Without a doubt, audiences are in store for a high-energy experience that is sure to both entertain and enamor.

“The Lonely Few” is an immersive experience like no other, delivering a powerful rock musical that redefines what it means to bring a story to life.

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Maya Vibhakar
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