By Stanford Friedman

Loneliness is not the problem for the discouraged band members who sing out their troubles in MCC Theater’s dynamic rock musical, The Lonely Few. Indeed, most of them can hardly find a moment alone. Instead, indecision, regret and loss send this posse of six frustrated characters colliding into each other at first and falling into each other’s arms at last.

If the book, by Rachel Bonds, is burdened with predictable transitions that either happen too quickly or tie up too neatly, the score, by Zoe Sarnak, hits the mark with a mix of angsty up-tempo bangers and misty, heartfelt ballads. The Broadway-caliber company delivers, with intense renditions of the jam-packed show’s 19 numbers, guided by the co-directing powerhouse team of Trip Cullman and Ellenore Scott.

Lila (Lauren Patten) is a hard rocker who tries mightily to hide her soft center. Though living in a “countryass town,” her role as lead singer in a local bar band offers some solace from a go-nowhere job and a do-nothing, alcoholic brother, Adam (Peter Mark Kendall). But her fantasy of escape looms large and becomes a viable option when Amy (Taylor Iman Jones) comes to hear her. She is a touring musician in need of both a new opening act and a new girlfriend. When she tells Lila, “I’m solo,” it is as much a double entendre as when she refers to “my label” as both her album producer and how others might perceive her.  

Patten, a Tony winner for her performance as Jo in Jagged Little Pill, knows a thing or two about portraying inner turmoil through a stoic outer shell. She is an intriguing partner for Jones who is a passionate belter with a resume full of rock musical cred. Her show-stopping number, “If Your Child,” is the evening’s centerpiece. Kendall, meanwhile, does the best he can as Adam, a sad sack almost always either intoxicated or grief-stricken or both. 

Thomas Silcott is cool and collected as bar-owner Paul, an old-timer with old ties to Amy. Helen J. Shen displays a silken voice as band member JJ, a character so underwritten that she nearly vanishes. And Damon Daunno, as band member Dylan, is so naturally likable and gifted that one could almost forgive Dylan’s disinterest in his pregnant wife.

The action is primarily set in Kentucky, though there isn’t much evidence in the score. The melodies are decidedly not country and Sarnak’s roots and influences are harbored in the Northeast. Still, there is no denying its charms. Highlights include a rock anthem, “God of Nowhere,” a break-up ballad called  “She,” and the full-throttled “Waking Up Thirty,” a close cousin to the Jonathan Larson classic time tripper, “30/90.”

The music comes at the audience in a variety of ways. Sometimes the trio plays directly at us. Other times, an off-stage band provides potent background to the on stage action. What rarely happens though is piano music, despite a baby grand that takes up a sizable chunk of stage left real estate. This is Paul’s hands-off “special piano.” We know not why. When Lila finally gets behind the keyboard for the show’s finale, it is a two-fold problem. Not only are we denied the rollicking closure that was being teased beforehand, but Patten is mostly hidden on the piano bench just when she most needs to be visible.

The creative team has a field day turning the whole of the theater into a dive bar. Scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer extends the set into the house with strung Christmas lights and a variety of seating options that include a row of beat up comfy chairs, a row of shabby bar stools, and table seating in the middle of the action. Lighting designer Adam Honoré cranks up the rock concert special effects but shines brightest in a quick series of sexy blackouts during a ménage et deux between Lila and Amy which is at once the quietest and loudest of scenes. 

 

The Lonely Few – Music and lyrics by Zoe Sarnak, book by Rachel Bonds; directed by Trip Cullman and Ellenore Scott. 

 

WITH:  Damon Daunno (Dylan), Taylor Iman Jones (Amy), Peter Mark Kendall (Adam), Lauren Patten (Lila), Helen J. Shen (JJ), and Thomas Silcott (Paul).

Scenic design by Sibyl Wickersheimer, costume design by Samantha C. Jones, lighting design by Adam Honoré, sound design by Jonathan Dean and Mike Tracey. MCC Theater, 511 W 52nd St., https://mcctheater.org/tix/the-lonely-few/. Through June 2. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes