Review: ‘The Lonely Few,’ a Geffen musical about lesbian rockers in love, is filled with old style coronary heart

The Geffen Playhouse’s intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater has been remodeled right into a dive bar for the world premiere musical “The Lonely Few.” Tables and chairs have been arrange within the taking part in space to immerse a portion of the viewers within the raucous, boozy ambiance of a Kentucky roadhouse.

The Lonely Few is the identify of the band that jams at Paul’s Juke Joint. Front girl Lila (Lauren Patten), who by day works as a clerk on the native Save-A-Lot, is just too gifted to be trapped on this backwater. But she feels unable to go away her older brother, Adam (Joshua Close), an amiable duffer with a substance abuse drawback.

Lila and Adam have sorted one another ever since their mom died. Lila has huge goals for herself, however she values loyalty greater than success. To keep sane, she releases her pent-up frustration at her gigs, the place her livid guitar taking part in, highly effective vocals and introspective songwriting torch the on a regular basis drabness of her life with a Dionysian flame.

On one among these events, a particular visitor seems on the bar. Amy (Ciara Renée), a Black singer-songwriter who’s testing the waters of a solo profession, turns up one night time on the invitation of Paul (Thomas Silcott), her former stepfather, who’s not solely the proprietor but additionally the Lonely Few’s drummer. Amy acknowledges straight away that Lila is not any bizarre singer. She additionally sees that they’ve one thing else in frequent as lesbian rockers within the illiberal South.

A love story comes into meteoric focus on this musical, which encompasses a e book by Rachel Bonds and a rating by Zoe Sarnak. Two ladies who’re hooked up to their cultural roots but alienated by the conservative values of their communities maintain for one another the reply to issues that till now have appeared insuperable.

Lila, eager for freedom, is in want of a approach out. Amy, hungry for belonging, is in want of a approach in. But the course of real love by no means did run easy, as Shakespeare memorably put it. And the marginalization of being queer will solely compound the obstacles to a attainable pleased ending for these characters.

Stage actors are sometimes referred to as upon to play well-known rock stars in jukebox musicals, which depend on an viewers’s affection for well-liked music catalogs. “The Lonely Few” makes its solid members earn their rock-and-roll stripes.

There’s no cowl band medley of previous hits to win over stressed viewers members, so the performers must solid their very own incandescent spell when jamming. The manufacturing — fluidly directed by Trip Cullman and Ellenore Scott on a set by Sibyl Wickersheimer that makes imaginative use of unsuspecting corners of the Geffen Playhouse’s second stage — is lucky to have two gifted singers main the cost.

Patten gained a Tony Award for her featured efficiency in “Jagged Little Pill,” the Alanis Morissette and Diablo Cody musical during which she delivered a model of “You Oughta Know” that commonly introduced the home down. (The position was the topic of some controversy associated to the manufacturing’s dealing with of the gender id of Patten’s character.) Lila’s musical fashion is eclectic, mixing the mercurial emotionalism of Morissette’s music with Melissa Etheridge’s traditional rock authority. Patten makes Broadway virtuosity completely suitable with roadhouse authenticity.

Renée has astonishing vocal agility that may sweep into the higher vary from the decrease depths. Her singing is sort of too good, however then she’s taking part in a famous recording artist whose stardom could be higher if it weren’t for society’s close-mindedness. She endows Amy with the melancholy radiance of an artist who’s struggling to clear an impartial path.

Ciara Renée and Thomas Silcott in “The Lonely Few” at Geffen Playhouse.

(Jeff Lorch / Geffen Playhouse)

The total solid is terrific, with every position etched with attractive idiosyncrasy. As Adam, Close honors the disarming generosity that makes it so exhausting for Lila to desert her brother. Silcott’s Paul reveals himself to be a person who desires to rectify his previous lapses, and this integrity involves the fore as Paul and Amy dig into the issues of their historical past.

Helen J Shen performs JJ, the precocious 17-year-old keyboardist within the Lonely Few, in a approach that accentuates the character’s wacky ambition with out dropping sight of the teen’s preternatural sensitivity. In the position of Dylan, a bandmate, buddy and booster of Lila’s, Damon Daunno (a Tony nominee for his efficiency as Curly in Daniel Fish’s revival of “Oklahoma!”) creates a dorky charmer desperate to hitch a trip to the massive time at the same time as he is aware of he’ll must get off quickly and face his duties at house.

The galvanizing singing, ingenious staging and charming appearing can’t solely cowl up the musical’s chief drawback — uneven storytelling. It may be tempting to put the blame on Bonds’ e book, which has some cliched dialogue, predictable plot factors and acquainted confrontation scenes. Weirdly, for a contemporary musical a couple of lesbian couple, the writing harks again to the sentimental ways of an earlier, extra standard period. (Playwright William Inge’s characters, determined to seek out connection in unfavorable provincial circumstances, have a shocking quantity in frequent with “The Lonely Few” gang.)

Lauren Patten and Joshua Close in

Lauren Patten and Joshua Close play siblings in “The Lonely Few,” directed by Trip Cullman and Ellenore Scott.

(Jeff Lorch / Geffen Playhouse)

But the fault doesn’t lie solely with the e book. It’s the connection between the drama and the music that’s off-kilter.

Sarnak’s lyrics are sometimes drowned out within the manufacturing’s sound quantity, irritating those that anticipate the songs of a musical to advance the story. But not all the audible lyrics shed significant gentle on the characters, and some create leaps within the motion that don’t appear totally earned.

The present’s rhythm, consequently, is derailed. The songs develop in lyrical curiosity within the second act, however the storytelling drags, particularly within the extended ultimate stretch. “Wondering” superbly exposes Amy’s vulnerability and “Always Wait for You” movingly expresses Lila’s romantic realization, however the psychological context and theatrical deployment of those numbers may use some tinkering.

“The Lonely Few” cries out for readability and compression. But it’s an endearing new musical with some untapped potential. Love tales, even queer ones, can’t assist being just a little old style at their core. But this one nonetheless has extra originality to find.

 ‘The Lonely Few’

Where: Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and eight p.m. Saturdays and a pair of and seven p.m. Sundays. (Check for schedule modifications.) Ends April 30.

Tickets: Start at $59

Info: (310) 208-2028 or www.geffenplayhouse.org

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (with one intermission)