A Man of No Importance at the Frederick Loewe
The musical A Man of No Importance, based on the acclaimed 1994 film starring Albert Finney, was originally staged at NYC’s Lincoln Center for a short run in 2002. Now, over a dozen years later, a cast of hardy and highly talented students from NYU Steinhardt School’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions take on the task of infusing fresh life into this material for a short weekend run at the Frederick Loewe theater.
The 2002 premiere boasted a script adaptation by Tony award-winning playwright Terrance McNally and direction by Broadway heavyweight Joe Mantello, but the show failed to have the “legs” to make the leap to Broadway – and it’s clear why. The story is a difficult one, at best, to transition from cinema dramedy to musical theater. Its protagonist is Alfie Byrne, an older gentleman living a simple, average life in 1960s Dublin, Ireland. Between his dull day job as a ticket taker on a city bus and his routine home life living with his sister, Alfie’s passion for leading a ragtag community theater group acts as the catalyst for a late-in-life realization of his homosexuality. There are all kinds of opportunities for playful moments of musical theater levity – Oscar Wilde makes cameo appearances as Alfie’s “spirit guide” toward his sexual awakening – but the stage version doesn’t leverage any of them to their potential. What’s left is middling material that’s aspirational in its attempt to swing for the fences, but falls short by way of too much earnestness and a significant lack of sustained energy.
Despite these inherent challenges, NYU’s production rises to the occasion of overcoming them by virtue of its superior cast. Ross Brown deftly handles the role of Alfie (meant for an actor decades his senior) with easy aplomb. Dan Corica as Carney and Donald Coggin as Robbie each provide much-needed vitality with their rousing musical numbers (Going Up and The Streets of Dublin, respectively). Alyssa LeClair is a standout performer in her role of Alfie’s sister, Lily. Her sharp comedic timing and resplendent vocals are truly delightful. The seven-piece orchestra, led by James Cunningham and positioned upstage from the main action, is exceptional. The outstanding supporting players complement the action, all while managing seamless scenery and prop-staging transitions. Every actor maintains a very convincing Irish brogue while singing and speaking, an inspiring testament to their dedication toward performance excellence.
NYU Steinhardt’s A Man of No Importance is a fine example of how five-star talent can elevate two-star material into an experience that exceeds its potential – and audience expectations.
A Man of No Importance is on at NYU’s Frederick Loewe theater from 5th February until 9th February, 2015, for further information or to book visit here.