The Lonesome Travelers in Concert Returns to Laguna Playhouse, 8/28-9/2

The Lonesome Travelers in Concert Returns to Laguna Playhouse, 8/28-9/2

When Lonesome Traveler played at Rubicon Theatre in Ventura last year, it became the best-selling premiere in Rubicon history. The concert then moved to Laguna Playhouse, where it was one of the top-grossing shows of recent seasons. Created and directed by NAACP Award-Winner James O’Neil, with Musical Arrangements by Tony nominee Dan Wheetman, Lonesome Traveler is a musical journey down the rivers and streams of American folk. 

By popular demand, those same “masterful” young singer/songwriters and musicians return for one-week-only to Laguna Playhouse August 28 through September 2 as the newly formed The Lonesome Travelers in Concert, a special engagement produced by Laguna. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday Evenings, 2:00 p.m. Thursday and Saturday Matinees and a special 4:00 p.m. Matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $40 to $70 and may be purchased through the Laguna Playhouse Box Office, at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA, or by calling 949-497-2787. Online ticketing is available through

Says Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham, “Our audiences had a deep and beautiful connection to the music – and we had many requests for a return engagement, so we are thrilled to offer an all new unique evening with even greater focus on the music, combining songs from the previous incarnation with a few added surprises.”

“Our audiences will have an opportunity to sing along on “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight,” “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You” and many others. They will also enjoy encores of “Deportee,” “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” and the title song, “Lonesome Traveler.” Finally, we have added some new folk favorites, such as “I’ll Fly Away,” “The Cruel War,” “The MTA” and “16 Tons.”

All nine artists from the previous Laguna run will be back as The Lonesome Travelers in Concert: L.A.-based singer/songwriters Justine Bennett and Brendan (B. Willing) James; Sylvie Davidson (a Seattle actress and singer whose credits include work at both ACT and Book-It); second-generation musicians James Webb and Trevor Wheetman, New York-based actor/musicians Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Justin Flagg; Anthony Manough (The Lion King and Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway); and Jennifer Leigh Warren (Big River, Marie Christine and Little Shop of Horrors in New York). All of the singers are multi-instrumentalists as well.
The concert is conceived by and co-produced with James O’Neil, who is co-founder and Artistic Director of Rubicon Theatre Company. This past year, O’Neil accepted the L.A. Drama Critics’ Circle Award for “Sustained Excellence” on behalf of Rubicon Theatre. O’Neil helmed Rubicon’s Ovation Award-winning production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, received the NAACP Award for Directing for Rubicon’s production of Driving Miss Daisy with Michael Learned which was presented during the 50th Anniversary oF Brown vs. Board of Education, and has also directed classics by Albee and Tennessee Williams for the company, in addition to numerous new works.

“My relationship with this music goes back to when I was six or seven-years-old,” O’Neil remarks. “My father was a child of the Great Depression. He grew up in Oklahoma and came to California during the Dust Bowl. He was a ranch hand in Goleta and later became the head of the local retail clerk’s union, and a union organizer. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were his heroes – my dad even played the guitar a little. As I was growing up in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, our house was filled with the sounds of the folk revival.”

“Even then I knew that the music was for me – and for all of us. Folk music is a declaration of a particular kind of humanity – one that perseveres through life’s difficulties and advocates respect and care for our fellow human beings. The idea of The Lonesome Travelers essentially comes from the idea that we all take a solitary journey through life – we come in and out of this world alone. But music is a great unifier – a great healer. It can help us feel a little less lost or alone.”

O’Neil’s thoughts are echoed by Musical Director Dan Wheetman: “This music was born out of hardscrabble living. However, it reflects the joy of life; no matter how many obstacles we face, the human spirit rises above and rejoices in being alive.”

Wheetman (a member of the band Marley’s Ghost) and O’Neil met at Rubicon when Wheetman was Musical Director for Back Home Again, for which he received an Ovation Award. Wheetman wrote the music for the stage version of The Cider House Rules, and has garnered several L.A. Critics’ Circle Awards for Musical Direction and a Tony nomination as a writer for It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues at Lincoln Center.

“There has been a great resurgence of interest in folk music,” says O’Neil, “with a bumper crop of young musicians reinterpreting and re-popularizing some of the older songs. I realized I wanted to – needed to – help create a context for a new generation.”

“Some of what we think of as American folk music came from other cultures as immigrants came to America: songs derived from traditional English or Scottish ballads, Irish reels, African spirituals or Bahamian lullabies, for example. These songs express universal feelings – love, regret, hunger, jealousy, humor, pain or pride. They were passed from generation to generation and then recorded in the South and Southeast in the mid-1920s by preservationists and opportunists.”

“Other songs relate to the times in which they were written,” says O’Neil. “Folk music is ‘The People’s Music,’ and these songs are the people’s responses to societal ills – issues of oppression, religious persecution, unemployment, unsafe working conditions, poverty and war. These are often story songs.

“Still other American folk songs influence and change the times,” continues O’Neil. “Many of these are songs of praise, solidarity and rebellion and include patriotic songs, union anthems, political commentary, etc.

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