'A Man of No Importance' Shines in Annapolis
I have been looking forward to seeing this production ever since I saw the 2006-2007 ambitious line-up by the Bay Theatre Company in Annapolis. I was fortunate to see the wonderful production at Lincoln Center starring Roger Rees and Faith Prince in 2002 which won the 2003 Outer Critics Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical. The musical is based on a 1994 film starring Albert Finney in which the lead character, Alfie Byrne is a Dublin bus conductor, circa 1964, who is devoted to amateur theater and literature and often reads to his bus customers poetry and plays.
If you have ever been involved in professional or community theater, in any capacity, this Baltimore/Washington premiere is a must see.
How this small, intimate 88 seat theater can pull this off is due to the wonderful direction by Lucinda Merry-Browne coupled with an unforgettable performance by Karl Kippola who has the task to tackling the complicated leading character of Alfie Byrne and he does it with boyish excitement and charm that is unforgettable. And what a voice!
But the entire cast deserves praise for bringing this musical to life in a postage-stamp size set which cleverly you never notice.
Due to limited space, the music is pre-recorded. You wish there was live orchestra but for budgetary reasons and no place for musicians, this can be forgiven. Music director Anita O'Connor does a miraculous job with a gorgeous score that I listen to often on the CD of the original cast. Remember, these composers are also responsible for two other terrific musicals, "Once on This Island" and "Ragtime".
I can't think of a more fitting musical to welcome our new Irish Governor Martin O'Malley to the state capital for there is so much Irish folk music intertwined through-out. It was also a terrific idea to include authentic Irish step dancing into the production which was absent in the original incantation. Special kudos to choreographer Jen Kohlhafer and to the 11-member cast for tackling this difficult style of dance.
There are some thrilling moments the wonderful anthem "The Streets of Dublin" sung by Judson Davis who plays the bus driver, Robbie, who Byrne attempts to make a part of his theater troupe. I got goose bumps during Kippola's rendition of "Love Who You Love", a gorgeous melody that "O'Malley's March" (if they are still around) could use. One of my favorite numbers "Confession" where Alfie tries to confess to his sins is a wonderful duet sung by Kippola and Davis. Gregory Stuart does a tough task playing three roles, all done with much panache.
Now to the women. "Princess" is another terrific song by the character Adele played innocently by Zehra Fazal and has such a sweet voice. Lilly Bryne (Alfie's sister), played by the brilliant Gillian Shelly, has great comedic ability trying to marry off her brother to "anybody".
The entire ensemble deserves praise for helping bring this great show to life. They especially shine in the song "Art" which ends with Alfie proclaiming, "In a week and a half, this will be art." And "A Man of No Importance" IS!!!
There if effective lighting by Irene Sitoski, and the simple set by James Kronzer is works well.
The play ends with Kippola's character stating, "The most thrilling words in the English language are Good morning my dear friends."
Go see "A Man of No Importance" and you'll understand why. You have until January 13, 2007. For tickets, call 410-268-1333 or go to www.baytheatre.org.
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