Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Musical of Some Importance - A Man Of No Importance - Musical Review

A Man of No Importance - Acting Up Stage Theatre Company - Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs - Toronto, ON
Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Book by Terrence McNally based on the film A Man of No Importance
Directed by Lezlie Wade

This little musical (originally produced Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Centre in 2002) that was based on the somewhat obscure and sort of recent 1995 film A Man of No Importance (starring Albert Finney) is tiny in scope but large in emotions, following a simple middle-aged bus conductor in Dublin, Ireland in the 1960's as he survived life through devotion to the arts at a local community theatre, and soon discovers that his love for the words of Oscar Wilde is not the only connection he has with the gay writer, and realizes his own love for his bus driving partner Robbie.

To be honest, part of me is like, another musical with a gay twist? (I've seen a few in recent months) but this one is done with such gentle care and a quiet manner, with beautifully luscious music by Stephen Flaherty that the simple life of Alfie Byrne becomes very important indeed. There's nothing revelatory that we haven't seen before and sometimes the pacing is a bit TOO gentle, but the musical tells it in such a lovely manner that cliches are easily overlooked in a funny and witty script that is touching, if not totally emotionally arresting book by Terrence McNally.

The music and songs by the team of Flaherty and Ahrens are not their best and memorable work (that would be Ragtime, easily one of my favorites of all time (and being remounted next year at the Kennedy Centre in DC!)) but they still sound distinctively like their stuff, with a folksy Irish twist, and that's a good thing.

Alas, it's the incredible acting company (with a terrific small 4 piece orchestra) that carries this little musical through any flaws in this tiny gem of a play, headed by Douglas E. Hughes who is simply terrific as the always positive Alfie. It's definitely a musical theatre performance that grabs your attention without needing to grab your attention, and it felt both real and grounded while still being mesmerizing and heartbreaking at the same time.

Kyle Blair who radiated immense charisma in last years Stratford production of Oklahoma, plays the object of Alfie's affections. Bethany Jillard is lovely as the new girl who is persuaded to join the community theatre group, though my friend didn't love her voice, whereas i felt it sounded like she was singing in character with an Irish accent. Patty Jamieson was fantastic as Lilly, Alfie's protective sister.

Most of the rest of the cast filled all the other characters, usually playing a multitude of them, and everyone was uniformly excellent. Christopher Darroch was a small revelation, alternating between a hilariously nerdy wannabe actor, the mean boss at the bus company, a mysterious man at the bar, and the lazy janitor, all while singing in an amazing baritone voice. Susan Henley (whom I must have seen in Toronto's Hairspray) was another standout amongst a solid ensemble.

It's not a revolutionary musical, and what is said, has been said before, but it has it's place in the musical universe, just as every man of no particular importance does in this world.

A Man of No Importance - ***1/2 (3.5 stars out of 5)

The show closes this Saturday, March 22nd.

Here were the other reviews around town:
Toronto Star
Eye Weekly
Toronto Sun
The Globe and Mail


dehughes58 said...

Dear Vance,

Thanks for the nice review, but I just thought I'd point out that my name isn't Bernard; it's Doug.

Yours Faithfully,

Douglas E. Hughes

Vance said...

Ooops. Sorry about that. Fixed it!

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