A Man of No Importance: an endearing tale of love, loss and friendship
Wednesday, Jul 08, 2015 06:00 am
Runs until Sunday, July 12
10322 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: Call 780-420-1757 or online at tixonthesquare.ca
Walterdale Theatre’s last-out-of-the-gate musical is the sentimental tug-at-the-heartstrings A Man of No Importance.
Created by book writer Terrence McNally, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, its gentle-hearted charms are a lovely respite from flashier musicals that sometimes totter under their own weight.
Duplicated from the 1994 film starring Albert Finney, the plot revolves around Alfie Byrnes, a humble, middle-aged bus conductor in 1964 Dublin.
Alfie lives with his sister Lily, also an aging spinster who refuses to marry until her brother finds a wife. She hopes Alfie will marry thereby freeing to start her own life.
But Alfie’s only noticeable love affair is with amateur dramatics. Not only is he trying to escape his environment. Alfie is trying to escape his sexuality. He is firmly closeted – even to himself.
But there is respite in life. Alfie loves poetry and entertains his regular passengers with nimble readings.
But Alfie’s true passions are Oscar Wilde plays, and he lives to stage the British playwright’s works in the social hall of St. Imelda’s Church.
His thespians are bus passengers, Dubliners who lead lives of quiet desperation – the butcher, a shop girl, a homemaker, an elderly widower, a pub owner, a former child star and a mother with as many children as digits on her hands.
The plays are an escapist fantasy from the confines of life. What the players lack in skill, they make up with heart in what Alfie repeatedly calls “art.”
The latest choice for St. Imelda’s players is Wilde’s Salome, and Alfie believes he’s found her in Adele, a young ingénue freshly moved to the big city. Now if he could only persuade his hunky, good-looking bus driver, Robbie, to play John the Baptist, all would be well.
But the intolerant Catholic Church refuses to allow the blasphemous production staged within its sacrosanct walls. In addition, several homosexual-hating thugs bait Alfie into receiving a visceral beating and he receives a humiliation that forever changes his life.
Morgan Smith (Les Cage aux Folles) is a small thin man, so physically perfect to play the lead role. But insignificant he is not. Although Alfie is a modest character, Morgan infuses him with lyrical charm and energy that shoulders the production.
Throughout the tensions, Morgan gives equal weight to Alfie’s vulnerabilities and you see it especially when he looks at Robbie with a yearning pain.
It is while singing Man in the Mirror that Alfie first expresses his unrequited love for Robbie and Morgan’s gentleness and sensitivity make it one of the play’s most moving scenes.
St. Albert’s Andrew Boyd (Miss Saigon) is Robbie, a man’s man, a likeable bus driver by day who enjoys spending evenings at the local pub quaffing a pint with friends. Robbie is completely unaware of his mate’s crush, yet is the first to stand by Alfie after he is outed.
Boyd’s good looks, winning smile and engaging personality easily charm. However, it is his robust musical theatre voice and a touching reading of Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol that establishes his acting chops.
The city’s inhabitants are a colouful lot from Carney (Philip Zyp), the bombastic butcher and Alfie’s nemesis. Then there’s St. Albert’s Lucy Haines as Mrs. Grace, a pushy Lady Bracknell type role she perfected in Lafferty’s Wake. As the comic relief, she provoked more than a few laughs from the packed audience.
And Athena Gordon as Lily Byrne is delightful as a patriotic islander who refuses to eat foreign foods (pasta Bolognese) and is frustrated with her brother’s disinterest in marriage.
She is especially affecting while singing Tell Me Why, a song where she angrily confronts her brother about his sexual preferences. The number requires a series of conflicting emotions from confusion to pain to shame. And Gordon cries out with the full range.
Lauren Boyd’s direction maintains a careful balance between the surface light-heartedness and the terrible sorrow of forbidden love and the casualties of lost lives.
Although the actors’ Irish accents move in and out of dialogue, A Man of No Importance is surprisingly endearing and makes for a lovely night out.