Review: ‘The Lonely Few’ Mixes Bona Fide Rock Concert With Angsty Love Story

This rock musical begins in glorious dive-bar grunge mode, and Lauren Patten and Taylor Iman Jones radiate so much charisma you may not care if the story feels a little generic.

Thomas-Silcott, Damon Daunno, Lauren Patten and Helen J. Shen in The Lonely Few. Joan Marcus

Who isn’t playing a rock star on stage? You got Stereophonic hipsters cutting an epic LP circa 1976 while Maleah Joi Moon tickles the ivories as the teenage Alicia Keys in Hell’s Kitchen. Actors have been impersonating Michael Jackson and Neil Diamond for years now. And a whole Huey Lewis jukebox musical was built around a fictional couple trying to make it in pop. But by far the most authentic guitar heroes currently melting faces are Lauren Patten and Iman Jones" class="company-link">Taylor Iman Jones in The Lonely Few. These iron-lunged ladies may be Broadway veterans (Patten from Jagged Little Pill and Iman Jones from Six), but they make damn convincing rockers in a show that tries to balance drama with the sweaty ecstasy of a concert.

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For its extended opening sequence, The Lucky Few gives glorious dive-bar grunge. The titular band, fronted by Patten’s petite but mighty-voiced Lila, tears into a snarling ode to the bliss of nihilism called “God of Nowhere.” Sibyl Wickersheimer’s high-definition wraparound set is a Kentucky watering hole called Paul’s Joint: lovingly vandalized stage on the left and beat-up bar on the right, festooned in band stickers. A portion of the audience gets to sit at tables smack in the middle of the action. Even if you watch at a remove from the usual seating, the heat and power of Lila’s playing is palpable. She’s backed by Dylan (Damon Daunno) on bass and vocals, JJ (Helen J Shen) on vocals and keyboard, and bar owner Paul (Thomas Silcott) on drums. Together (with the help of backstage musicians), they joyously perform composer-lyricist Zoe Sarnak’s kickass tunes, evocative of mid- to late-’90s icons like Melissa Etheridge, Ani DiFranco, and, naturally, Alanis Morissette. 

Lauren Patten, Taylor Iman Jones and Helen J. Shen in The Lonely Few. Joan Marcus

But then the set’s over and the play begins—and that’s where things get tricky. Book writer Rachel Bonds has too little space to establish characters and set up the narrative stakes: a small-town tale of breaking away meets backstage romance, plus a working-class family drama with addiction issues. Complicating Bonds’s job is the fact that the songs function great as rock tracks, but don’t do enough to push the story forward. There’s also an intelligibility problem. Between the cranked-up instruments and howled vocals, it’s hard to catch every word. Which is okay when you groove to a bop for the first time, but harder to make work in theater. 

The love story that gives Lonely Few its pulsing emotional center is between Lila and Iman Jones’s Amy, the latter an accomplished songwriter who has written hits for other singers but has to fight to get the record label to underwrite a tour. Amy catches The Lonely Few one night at Paul’s Joint (Paul dated her mother years ago) and falls immediately for Lila—the woman and the musician. The attraction is mutual, although Lila is not nearly as fearless in person as she appears offstage. Soon, Amy has invited the Lonely Few to be her opening band and the romance blossoms.

Lauren Patten, Damon Daunno and Helen J. Shen in The Lonely Few. Joan Marcus

Bonds returns to a theme she explored in Jonah, an intriguing memory play earlier this year: the extremely damaged and toxic brother cared for by a younger sister. In this case, when Lila hits the road with Amy, her wayward, hard-drinking sibling, Adam (Peter Mark Kendall), descends into a near-suicidal spiral of booze and pills. Adam repeatedly dials his sister’s cell, which Lila ignores. When Lila finally succumbs to family duty, her future with flinty, self-sufficient Amy—who keeps relatives at a safe distance—grows doubtful.

The spine of the musical is strong when we stick with the lovers, but too often supporting characters suffer. Daunno, Curly from Daniel Fish’s audacious revival of Oklahoma!, puts his sexy on the shelf to play the band goofball—Lila’s coworker at a big-box store and an expectant father. When Lila tells Dylan the tour’s been canceled and he sings a bitter song about squandered dreams, we wonder why we should care about Dylan’s disillusionment when we’ve barely gotten a sense of his illusions. Same goes for Shen’s JJ, the manic pixie dream keyboardist, whose defining feature is cutesy enthusiasm. 

Despite too many (19) songs and not enough book (problems that plague many new musicals), there is so much talent and charisma flowing off Patten and Iman Jones for you not to be caught up in their messy, passionate love story. Maybe it’s perverse to say, but I’d like to see the sequel to The Lonely Few rather than this overly generic origin story. What’s the next chapter for Amy and Lila? Global fame? Infidelity, drugs, dueling divas? Can’t wait for that album to drop. 

The Lonely Few | 1hr 45mins. No intermission. | MCC Theater’s Newman Mills Theater | 511 W 52nd Street | 646-506-9393 | Buy Tickets Here   


Review: ‘The Lonely Few’ Mixes Bona Fide Rock Concert With Angsty Love Story