Fanfare For the Man in the Mirror

A Man of No Importance

Cast of “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)
Cast of “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)

4 stars

Mild-mannered, middle-aged Alfie Byrne works as a ticket agent on a Dublin bus. It’s 1964, back when acceptance and equal rights were something only dreamed about by members of the gay community. But Alfie harbors a secret love for Robbie Fay, the handsome, young bus driver with whom he works side-by-side every day.

Unable to share his buried emotions with anyone else, Alfie secretly communes with the spirit of Oscar Wilde, his literary idol and imaginary confidante.

In an attempt to escape from his mundane existence and re-channel the love that dares not speak its name, Alfie has turned to a more acceptable venue. He refocuses his energy and uses his  creativity to become the director of the local church’s amateur theatrical troupe. In addition to his devoted, maiden sister, Lily, the actors and his modest tech staff provide Alfie with all the love and support he needs.

However, when he’s beaten by a thug who lures Alfie to a dark street corner, he’s arrested for lewd conduct and then has to endure the shame and bigotry offered by the community. It’s only through the redemptive power of his art that Alfie is able to regain his self dignity and acceptance with his friends.

Directed with simplicity and great feeling by Jeff Award-winning actor/singer, Donterrio Johnson, this is one of Pride Films & Plays’ finest musical productions.

Filled with personality and great heart, this humble production oozes with the joy of living. It’s truly a fanfare for the common man, “The Man in the Mirror,” about whom Alfie sings.

Tommy Bullington and Sarah Beth Tanner in “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)
Tommy Bullington and Sarah Beth Tanner in “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)

The heartwarming book by prolific playwright, Terrence McNally, is beautifully enhanced by a mellow, magical score by the Broadway composer and lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

It features such heartbreaking ballads and lilting, Irish-inspired tunes as the wonderful title song, the rousing “Streets of Dublin,” the moving “Love Who You Love” and Alfie’s poignant musical epiphany, “Welcome to the World.”

The production sports an economical but very practical and inventive scenic design by Evan Frank. Lit with mood and atmosphere by Mike McShane, with colorful period costumes by Bob Kuhn, this production rests heavily on the musical direction and accompaniment provided by the incomparable Robert Ollis and his six-member orchestra.

Donterrio Johnson’s cast is wonderful. Overflowing with talent and a passion for this role, Ryan Lanning is superb as Alfie Byrne. Last seen in Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Candide,” Lanning plays Alfie with careful nuance, subtle gestures and delicate facial expressions to create an Everyman, a blue collar worker forced hide who he is, even though his idol, Oscar Wilde, advises him to simply be himself.

Interestingly, Ryan played the role of Alfie’s co-worker and true love, Robbie Fay, over a dozen years ago in the Bailiwick production. Here the role is portrayed by the boyishly handsome Nick Arceo, a talented young actor with an earnest stage presence and lovely voice.

Lily Byrne, Alfie’s spinster sister, is given a powerful performance by Sarah Beth Tanner whose many talents have been enjoyed at Windy City Playhouse and Underscore Theatre. Her touching solo, “Tell Me Why,” along with her lovely duet with Alfie, “The Burden of Life,” are fine moments in this musical.

Other standouts include Christopher Davis, wonderful as Baldy, particularly his stirring graveside ballad, “The Cuddles Mary Gave.” As butcher, amateur actor and Lily’s suitor, Tommy Bullington is completely delightful as William Carney. His duets, “Books” and “Confusing Times,” nicely define who he is.

Making her PFP debut is the promising talent of Ciera Dawn as Alfie’s leading lady, Adele Rice. The brilliant supporting cast includes Ryan Armstrong, Amanda Giles, Jessica Lauren Fisher, Kimberly Lawson, Kevin O’Connell, Ian Rigg, Orlando Shelly, Tiffany T. Taylor and Thomas Tong.

Johnson has every reason to be bursting with pride with his accomplishments as a director of this excellent production. Both heartbreaking and heartfelt, this modest little musical sings with joy about being true to oneself, loving who you love and celebrating with a fanfare, the man in the mirror.

DETAILS:  “A Man of No Importance” is at  by Pride Films & Plays at the Broadway Theatre, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago, extended through Nov. 17, 2019.  Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (866) 811-4111 or (773) 857-0222 or  visit Pride Films and Plays.

Colin Douglas

Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting TheatreInChicago.

 

 

 

 

 

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