Friday, June 02, 2006

A Man of No Importance (Beck Center)

‘A Man Of No Importance’--little gem of a musical at BECK

" Your Common Sense Tells You, Best Not Begin, But Your Fool Heart Cannot Help Plungin' In And Nothing and No One Can Stand in Your Way You Just Have to Love Who You Love"
This musical line from, ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE,’ which is now on stage at Beck Center, is the central theme of the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award winner for Best Off Broadway musical. The script probes the question, “What do you do when your feelings drive you in one direction and your culture pushes you to subvert those feelings for fear of the consequences?”

Written by ‘RAGTIME’ creators Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens, and Stephen Flaherty the musical is based on the 1994 Albert Finney movie of the same name. The group also authored ‘ONCE ON THIS ISLAND’ and ‘SEUSSICAL.’

Set in early-1960s Dublin, ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE’ tells the story of Alfie Byrne, an aging gay bus conductor who has never acted on his sexual drives. He shares a sheltered home life with his sister who thinks she can't marry until her brother, who she has loved and protected since childhood, has a wife to take care of him. Alfie's yearnings for a meaningful 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 a group of amateur thespians at the local church. His favorite poet and playwright is Oscar Wilde, a well known “poof,” who paid dearly for his sexual orientation, including being jailed for his love of men.

Alfie thinks his life lacks import, but in reality he has added much to the existence of many. His reading of poetry to his bus rider has, added verse and verve to their humdrum commutes, and his play directing, no matter how bad the end product, adds much to the lives of others. And, in the end, all of us, including Alfie, recognize his significance. "He starts speaking the truth about who he is and how he feels." And, it appears that he will heed the words of Oscar Wilde who stated, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”

This is not a blockbuster musical. It is a small quiet chamber-sized piece. It fits perfectly into Beck’s intimate studio theatre space. Except for the venue’s poor acoustics and a sometimes overly loud orchestra, the blend of play and space work well.

Even the score is underwritten. None of the sixteen songs is a top 40-hit or has the makings of a classic. In spite of this, there is a nice blending of Irish folk song and musical theatre pop. Key among the offerings is “Princess,” “The Cuddles Mary Gave,” and “Tell Me Why.”

The Beck production, though a little long, is well-paced by director Scott Spence. He has blended the cast into a believable ensemble. Each cast member develops a clear characterization.

As he has proven over-and-over, multi-Times Tribute Award winner Matthew Wright (Alfie), is marvelous. Among the area’s very best musical theatre performers (Beck’s ‘URINETOWN.’ ‘THE IMAGINARY INVALID,’ and ‘THE FIX’), Wright develops a tender, emotionally wracked character who draws great empathy from the audience. His renditions of “Love Who You Love” and “Welcome to the World” are impassioned gems.

Lenne Snively is wonderful as Lily, Alfie’s sister. She has a glorious singing voice and develops both nagging and empathy with equal effectiveness. Her rendition of “The Burden of Life” is the production’s comic showstopper.

Rob Mayes, who successfully portrayed the Stripper in Beck’s ‘THE FULL MONTY,’ proves he is more than a sculpted body. His Robbie, the bus driver who Alfie lusts after, is well-acted and Mayes displays a fine singing voice. His “The Streets of Dublin” is compelling.

Patty Lohr, effectively develops the role of the unwed yet pregnant Adele. Her well performed “Love Who You Love,” clearly carries the script’s message.

Though all the other members of the cast are excellent, Rhoda Rosen, Leslie Feagan and George Roth standout.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE’ is one of those small gems of a musical, which if performed by a proficient cast and molded by a sensitive director, can be an audience pleaser. Beck’s production has the cast and the director to make this a winner!