"A Man of No Importance"
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Book by Terrance McNally
Directed by Rachel Fennell
Music Direction by Shawn Gelzleichter
Choreography/ Asst. Directed by Kelly Murphy
In last several years, there have been many musicals adapted from movies. Some have been better than others, and some have made theatre-goers and performers alike wonder why they were even produced in the first place. I have seen many musicals based on movies, as well as the movies themselves, and I have enjoyed most of them. The Burlington Players recently opened their production of "A Man of No Importance", which was in fact based off of the movie of the same name, which I hadn't realized until I did a bit of research. I have not actually seen the movie, but I found myself enjoying the stage production quite a bit. I felt that I probably would enjoy the film as well.
"A Man of No Importance" takes us to Dublin in the 1960s and tells the story of bus conductor Alfie Byrne who is attempting with his local theatre troupe to put up a production of Oscar Wilde's "Salome" at the local church. Along the way, he examines and struggles with his own personal feelings and relationships in his life that soon start changing his day to day going-ons.
Playwright Terrance McNally, who wrote the book, was no stranger in adapting a movie into a stage shows. He done the same for "The Full Monty" quite successfully. The simple, yet powerful story was there, and McNally brought to a stage setting with ease. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the composer and lyricist team behind "Ragtime" and the film "Anastasia", had weaved together a beautiful mishmash pf Celtic and modern scores. Everything about the story and music came together nicely. Specifically the 2nd act started a solid beat, but was soon overlapped with the hymn like number, "Our Father". The Celtic energy and solemn hymn worked very well in tandem.
The Burlington Players had staged the production in their own black box, which was had an L-Shaped stage. As it was an odd shape, it could very well work against any show that is presented in it. It created a challenge, as it seemed like director Rachel Fennell was willing to take it on. She left a bare stage within a minimal set, including a dozen chairs, a few tables and a moving door for creating different locations. In many aspects, it worked well, as it created an almost meta feeling, as the characters were mounting a very minimalist production on a stage with very few set pieces. However, there were some moments that were lost to the sight lines, specifically when two things were going on at once, but were on opposite sides of furthest parts of the stage. Moments like that could have been brought closer together. Also, there could've been more done with what actors were doing during the musical numbers. It almost seemed like there was more that each performer wanted to do, as they were trying to burst out. The lighting design by Hugh Thompson was good enough for certain moments, whether it was to use an appropriate window gobo for one scene or lighting a different location. It was simple, but there could've been more color as many vital and important songs were very flat and untextured. Shawn Gelzleichter's music direction was not at all overpowering and remains
behind the scenes and not in your face. The orchestra was small as for
this show, as you cannot have one that is overwhelming. He keeps his
crew simple and every instrument, specifically a memorable accordion,
comes and brings a nice sound for the production. Kelly Murphy's choreography was not at all overly complicated as it was, again, a simple show. Some great moments included "Going Up" with an obvious use for a fun little kick line, as well a quite a cute tap bit in "Art".
Robert Hallisey's Alfie was full of genuine kindness that really shined in several strong moments, but he lacked charisma and strength that needed to carry the show. It was very hard to connect with him. Emily Earle gave a sweet, grounded and innocent portrayal of Adele and combined with her impressive pipes, she created a lovely presence. The only thing she was lacking was the strong vulnerability in some scenes, but her rendition of "Love Who You Love (Reprise)" was quite touching. Jennifer Bubriski captured Alfie's sister Lily in a hilarious manner, full of the typical sibling love that we all are aware of, but is clearly masked with the "knowing what's best" vibe. Along with Mr. Carney, energetically played by Curt Fennell, adorably perform together "Books", believably becoming more and more inebriated and not forcing the moment as it was clearly developing naturally. Eric Lamrache's spunky performance as Robbie was quite good as well. He was full of energy and his friendship and chemistry with Hallisey's Alfie was a lot fun to watch. Sometimes, some of his numbers seemed a bit out of his vocal range, but his charisma and cavalier attitude were his strongest character aspects. The rest of the cast each gave solid performances and created very fun and silly characters, while avoiding the areas of caricature. Their numbers "Going Up", "The Streets of Dublin", and "Art" gave a chance for each character to shine and their passion for their creativity and love showed. They were very connected with the material. Another impressive aspect was the consistency of the Irish dialects not only in the dialogue but with the singing as well. However, though the community feel was there, some characters would try to stand out from others, sometimes for a laugh or an attempt to stand out, which became distracting from time to time. Overall, though, it was overshadowed by their connection to each other and their desire to genuinely create art.
With such a believable story and relatable characters, "A Man of No Importance" stands out as remarkable and memorable show. The Burlington Players brings this production to life quite well and doesn't hammer the audience over the head with its themes and moments. A few minor weak moments were there, but it did not take away too much from the show and the experience. The presentation of the subtle music and story is just another reminder that less is indeed more and you don't need to force anything. This production overall was in a few words, sweet and enduring.