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A CurtainUp Review
A Man Of No Importance

If you come with me you'll know. . .what you're missing in the streets of Dublin
-- from the musical's "hit" song in which young Robbie, urges his middle-aged co-worker to join him for some fun at the local pub and enjoy the life of the city.
Unlike Hairspray, this season's first out the gate movie-into-musical, A Man of No Importance, is not a blockbuster but a quiet chamber sized work. It tells its story with a cast of fifteen and is painted in a muted palette. Even the 1994 screen inspiration, was a modest affair with none of the aura of a "cult film." Still, with the unassuming man of the title, a middle-aged Irish bus conductor whose main emotional and creative outlet is a church-based community theater, midwifed by a high profile creative team there was an even more than usual rush to buy tickets by Lincoln Center subscribers -- especially since the show is housed in the smaller of the two Lincoln Center venues, the Mitzi Newhouse.

But if Lincoln Center hoped A Man of No Importance would turn into another Contact, their last phenomenally successful intimate musical, their hopes were quickly dashed by so-so audience word of mouth and less than ecstatic reviews from first night critics. That's a pity. While not a flawless gem, neither is A Man of No Importance so fatally flawed that its charms will be lost on anyone who appreciates unpretentious, character-driven musical theater. If people don't leave the theater humming even the best songs it's because despite enough songs (16, not counting reprises) to qualify as a full-fledged musical, this is less a traditional musical than a play that uses song as part of the dialogue.

As with his other film-based musical, The Full Monty, book writer Terrence McNally has not only kept the title of his inspirational source, but stuck closely to the story line. In the musical, as in the movie, we're again in a working class neighborhood of Dublin in the early 1960s when sexual attitudes, especially in this sort of milieu, still tended to be confusing and contained.

The title character is Alfie Byrne (Roger Rees), a middle-aged man whose spinster sister (Faith Prince) feels she can't marry until he has a wife to take care of him, even though he's the one who cooks their meals. Alfie's yearnings for a less circumscribed life finds release in reciting poetry to the bus passengers (despite constant complaints from his supervisor about the bus running late) and directing plays for the amateur thespians at the local church. His favorite poet and playwright is Oscar Wilde so the audience guesses well before any of the characters on stage, that Alfie is never going to get married -- at least not to a woman.

The plot trigger that forces Alfie to finally face his sexuality requires a certain willingness to accept the illogical premise that anyone who knows Wilde as well as Alfie does would not realize that Salome -- long prone to immorality accusations -- would be certain to cause trouble in a conservative church environment. However, the very illogic of this play within the play idea removes the need for a surprise ending and makes the flashback that begins and ends with Alfie packing his theatrical belongings in the church theater from which he's been ousted (and outed) an ideal framing device.

Roger Rees's dark good looks might be a problem for making Alfie convincingly "unimportant" but Rees is terrific in the part, the yearning in his face when he looks at the hunky object of his unexpressed passion unmistakably moving. His not being pudgy and unattractive actually buttresses his upbeat "Welcome to the World" finale since you can more easily picture a life with romantic interest as well as friends than for the Alfie as played by Albert Finney.

What does make Rees's good looks problematic is some lazy lyric writing and directorial oversight in Joe Mantello's otherwise commendable first effort at helming a musical. Both Ahrens and Mantello should have anticipated criticism of miscasting by adjusting the "Man in the Mirror" number in which the trim Rees, his black hair without a trace of a bald spot, sings about his "thickening body" and "thinning hair.."

This brings me to the music generally. While a nice blend of Irish folk song and musical theater pop, it has just one major break out song, "The Streets of Dublin". (spectacularly well sung by Steven Pasquale, who, as in Spitfire Grill, again himself to be an appealing leading man. There are several other nice musical moments:
  • the amusing "Books " by Faith Prince who's a fine plain Irish Lily and Charles Keating as her suitor and Alfie's nemesis or, as Alfie he puts it, his"Queensbury " (Keating also gamely dons a Phantom-like outfit in the Oscar Wilde role that is one of McNally's main additions to the original screenplay)
  • Ronn Carrol, a minor character making a major impression with "The Cuddles Mary Gave", a touching ode to his dead wife.
  • the ensemble's "Art" which humorously illustrates the theater's importance not just to Alfie but the whole little troupe.
The entire ensemble performs and sings well, though Jessica Molaskey as the adulterous Mrs. Patrick seems sadly underused which makes one overlook the overripeness of the "Our Father" number at the top of the second act in which she stars. Loy Arcena's high-ceilinged church set with a most effective revolving floor (shades of the third part of Contact). Donald Holder and Jane Greenwood bring their never failing skills to the overall production values. Rob Berman's small band is unobtrusively tucked into an area in back of the stage within the stage.

A Man of No Importance probably doesn't have what Broadway calls "the legs" to carry it beyond its limited run, though I can envision a life beyond New York -- where you have just a little more than a month to see whether you agree with me that it has more to recommend than reprimand it.

The Full Monty
Spitfire Grill
Book by Terrence McNally, based on 1994 film of the same name
Music by Stephen Flaherty & lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by. Joe Mantello
Cast: Ronn Carroll, Jarlath Conroy, Luther Creek, Charles Keating, Barbara Marineau, Michael McCormick, Sean McCourt, Katherine McGrath, Jessica Molaskey, Martin Moran, Sally Murphy, Steven Pasquale, Patti Perkins, Faith Prince, Roger Rees
Set Design: Loy Arcenas
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood.
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Scott Lehrer
Orchestrations: William David Brohn & Christopher Jahnke
Musical direction: Ted Sperling
Orchestra: Conductor/Keyboard - Rob Berman; Associate Conductor/Keyboard/Accordion - Shawn Gough; Guitars - Kevin Kuhn; Violin/Mandolin - Antoine Silverman; Flutes - Brian Miller; Cello - Peter Sachon; Bass - David Phillips.
Music Coordinator - -lohn Miller
Running time: 2 1/2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Mitzi Newhouse, Lincoln Center. 212/239-6200. Elyse Sommer based on October 26th performance.
-9/12-02-12/02; opening 10/10/01.
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm; Wed & Sat at 2pm -- $65.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/25 performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • A Man of No Importance/ Alfie, Company
  • The Burden of Life / Lily
  • Going Up/ Carney, The St. Imelda's Players
  • Princess/ Adele
  • First Rehearsal / Alfie, The St. Imelda's Players
  • The Streets of Dublin / Robbie, Company
  • Books/ Carney, Lily
  • Man in the Mirror / Alfie, Oscar Wilde
  • The Burden of Life (Reprise) Lily
  • Love Who You Love/ Alfie
Act Two
  • Our Father/ Mrs. Patrick, Company
  • Confession / Alfie, Robbie, Father Kenny
  • The Cuddles Mary Gave/ Baldy
  • Art / Alfie, The St. Imelda' s Players
  • A Man of No Importance (Reprise) Mrs. Patrick, Breton Beret, Sully O'Hara
  • Confusing Times / Carney
  • Love Who You Love (Reprise) Robbie
  • Man in the Mirror (Reprise) Oscar Wilde, Company
  • Tell Me Why / Lily
  • A Man of No Importance (Reprise) Company
  • Love Who You Love (Reprise) Adele
  • Welcome to the World/ Alfie
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