Regional Reviews: Phoenix
A Man of No Importance
The musical centers on middle-aged Alfie Bryne, who works as a bus conductor and lives with his single sister. While his day job is boring, Alfie truly comes alive when he recites poetry to his passengers and, at night, when he oversees the community theatre that presents plays in the hall at his church, St. Imelda's. Alfie and his ragtag group of thespians use art to escape the doldrums of dreary Dublin and the overreaching constraints of Catholicism. When Alfie decides their next play will be Oscar Wilde's controversial drama Salome, he finds himself up against the church leadership, his leading man, his sister, and even some members of his theater company. Alfie has to decide if being truthful about who he is and his devotion to art has a place within his highly religious community.
Based on the film of the same name, the musical is presented as a play within a play, as the St. Imelda's players present the story of Alfie Byrne. Told mostly in flashback, it is an intimate, personal journey of this simple man as he desperately searches for love in a world where his homosexuality doesn't mix with his Catholicism. It's also a love letter to the theatre, the community it can form, and the healing power it can have. While the score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty does not have the soaring ballads of Ragtime or the catchy rhymes of Seussical, there is much to admire, especially the numbers that set the plot in motion and move it forward. Terrence McNally's book does a fine job in fleshing out the main characters while also providing some depth to the quirky roles played by the large supporting cast.
Tregoney Shepherd's intelligent direction beautifully depicts the joy that art and theatre can have on an individual, and she derives rich performances from her cast who create three-dimensional characters. Shepherd's scenes are fluidly staged, especially the opening number that brings to life the sense of people on the Dublin streets and the passengers on Alfie's bus. She stages the entire play take place inside the hall in St. Imelda's church, since St. Imelda's theatre group is presenting the play about Alfie's life, and to have props and set pieces found inside the theater, such as chairs and crates, be repurposed throughout the show as various set elements.
Dane Burk's set design is gorgeous, with numerous playing areas and the rich costumes by Sharon Jones are period perfect. Melissa Rex's lighting is atmospheric and awash with deep, dark colors. Adrian Goldenthal's sound design delivers crisp vocals from the cast and clear notes from the wonderful orchestra led by music director Darin Shryock.
Taylor Hudson is perfect as the quiet and unassuming Alfie. His performance is subtle yet full of life, a clear depiction that achieves a thorough and natural understanding of the conflicted nature of the character. Hudson is warm and lovable, with a singing voice that soars, but his rich singing never shortchanges the emotion and suffering underneath Alfie's charming exterior.
As Alfie's unwed sister Lily, Emily Noxon is appropriately stern yet also brings a clarity to the warmth and strong bond Lily has for her brother. Noxon's singing voice is strong and bright. As Robbie Faye, Alfie's co-worker, Payten McLeod is lively and charming and full of personality. Hayden Schnepf is very good as Adele, the young woman Alfie brings into the acting troupe to play Salome who, like Alfie, also has a secret. Nicholas Hambruch does a good job as Carney, the man dating Lily who is also a member of the acting troupe and involved in the church, and Trevon Powell and Paul Thomas Nichols are very good as Baldy and Father Kenny. The remaining cast form a tight knight ensemble as the scrappy group of actors who form the St. Imelda's players. The accent work by the entire cast is consistent and appropriate.
It's not often you get to see a rarely produced musical in town in a beautiful, well-cast production, from the likes of the composing team of Ahrens and Flaherty with a book by Terrence McNally. With an exceptional lead performance by Taylor Hudson and Tregoney Shepherd's assured direction, Mesa Community College's A Man of No Importance is a striking production of this intimate and enthralling yet emotionally compassionate story.
A Man of No Importance runs through November 13, 2021, at the Mesa Community College Performing Arts Center, 1520 S Longmore, Mesa AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480-461-7172 or visit www.mesacc.edu/arts/events.
Director: Tregoney Shepherd
Cast:(in alphabetical order)