THE LONELY FEW; The Many Songs — Review


The company of The Lonely Few | Photo: Joan Marcus

Juan A. Ramirez
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May 20, 2024 10:45 PM

The Lonely Few has such an embarrassment of sonic riches, from the freshness of Zoe Sarnak’s rock score to the vocal electricity of its cast, that it becomes a hindrance to the rest of the work. By packing 19 songs into its hour-forty-five runtime, it asks Rachel Bonds’ book to fulfill a herculean task: move clearly-defined characters through a story, around music that seldom pushes narrative forward. Receiving its New York premiere at MCC Theater, it’s an admirable collection of songs in search of significance.

Its title refers to the fictional band fronted by Lila (Lauren Patten), and which includes other outcasts from their small Kentucky town: her best friend Dylan (Damon Daunno); the 18-year-old JJ (Helen J Shen); and Paul (Thomas Silcott), at whose Juke Joint the group has a standing gig. Along comes Amy (Taylor Iman Jones), a quasi-successful singer-songwriter who immediately hits it off with Lila, if not so much with her brother, Adam (Peter Mark Kendall), who stumbles around the bar lamenting singers who “got all political.”

The two women skirt around their obvious attraction too long for any reasonable adult, but act on their initial spark quickly enough for Amy to invite the band to accompany her on tour. Complications arise, home beckons some back, and certain compromises must be made.

Lauren Patten and Taylor Iman Jones | Photo: Joan Marcus

Sibyl Wickersheimer’s scenic design is a fantastic recreation of Paul’s gnarly dive, with a few audience members sitting onstage, on tables or along the bar which leads to the band’s stage. But though directors Trip Cullman and Ellenore Scott keep things at a lively pace, they don’t settle on a cohesive way to stage the action, or activate the stage. The line between what is performed diegetically or not is crossed often and confusingly and, despite the full band setup on the bar’s stage set, the production’s actual musicians are located out of view.

It goes without saying that any score which counts Patten, Daunno, and Jones as its lead singers will be vocally rich, dynamic, and compelling—even if Daunno is tragically underused. Sarnak’s lyrics, though they could stand on their own as rock songs, do not provide the character insight necessary for a musical with as slight a book as this. They contribute to the plot even less, leaving each actor with threadbare suggestions of personalities, thrown into situations that never congeal. Though the tour moves around and relationships are ostensibly formed and tested, stakes don’t materialize as we’re hit with arbitrary song after song.

Entirely shorn of its book, The Lonely Few could work as an album. But with the potential promised by its team of cast and creatives, it is a terrific score that deserves to let its book breathe.

The Lonely Few is in performance through June 2, 2024 at MCC Theater on West 52nd Street in New York City.

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Juan A. Ramirez

Juan A. Ramirez writes arts and culture reviews, features, and interviews for publications in New York and Boston, and will continue to do so until every last person is annoyed. Thanks to his MA in Film and Media Studies from Columbia University, he has suddenly found himself the expert on Queer Melodrama in Venezuelan Cinema, and is figuring out ways to apply that.

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