"Lonesome Traveler" had plenty of company Saturday at the Laguna Playhouse gala opening.
The Rubicon Theatre Co.'s ode to American folk music had the sold-out audience spontaneously singing along and the enthusiasm didn't end when the curtain came down.
"This was so fun," said Kathy Conway, as first-nighters mingled with the cast and toasted them with champagne.
"I knew a lot of the music, but especially the spirituals," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, whose family still lives in North Carolina.
Singalongs were encouraged by Justin Flagg in the role of the narrator, the "Lonesome Traveler," aka Pete Seeger. Well-known songs included "This Land is Your Land, "Blowin' in the Wind," "Goodnight, Irene," "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and "Mr. Tambourine Man."
"Folk music is very much about participation, not observation," said show designer Tom Giamario.
Even the set was familiar to many — those who spent time in the 1960s in San Francisco recognized the nod to the iconic "Hungry i," the lowercase "i" intended but never fully explained. The club presented folk singers such as Glen Yarborough and the Kingston Trio, as well as boosted the careers of young comedian Bill Cosby and satirist Mort Sahl.
"Lonesome Traveler" was written and directed by Rubicon Theatre's artistic director, James O'Neil. Performances continue through Feb. 5.
"This is the third year we have worked with the Rubicon," said Karen Wood, Playhouse executive director.
Last year, Rubicon and the Playhouse were among the consortium of six theaters that staged the premiere of "Daddy Long Legs."
"They produced 'Lonesome Traveler' at their theater and now here," Wood said of Rubicon. "We are already looking at what are going to do this year."
"Lonesome Traveler" is a stroll through American folk music, although "folk music" is said to be an English term that originated in the 19th century. In America, its roots include the church music of the country's black population.
How fitting that "Lonesome Traveler" concludes with "This Little Light of Mine" and includes "We Shall Overcome," music of the Civil Rights Movement.
Folk music exploded in the Beat Generation's coffeehouses of the 1960s, and its genre was well represented in the show.
"My relationship with this music goes back to when I was six or seven years old," O'Neil said. "My father was a child of the Great Depression. He grew up in Oklahoma and came to California during the Dust Bowl.
"As I was growing up in the late '50s and early '60s, our house was filled with the sounds of the folk revival."
The title came from the notion that life is a solitary journey, but music can offer solace and bring folks together, O'Neil said.
"Jim O'Neil has brought together a remarkable and uniquely talented cast of performers who take us on a memorable journey through decades of American folk music," said Ann Wareham, the Playhouse's artistic director.
The cast is better and younger looking offstage. Petite Jennifer Leigh Warren, who first appears as a spiritual singing old woman, bent of knee and back, is a pocket venus, with a list of Broadway, film and recording credits.