A tender and beautifully woven tale of love, friendship and coming to terms with who we are is the basis of a musical being brought to life in November and December. Playlovers and the Irish Theatre Players have joined forces to stage the WA premiere of A Man of No Importance by Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty – the same team behind Seussical and the Tony Award-winning Ragtime.
Based on the 1994 film starring Albert Finney, the musical is set in 1964 Dublin and follows bus driver Alfie Byrne, whose heart holds secrets he can't share with anyone but his imagined confidante Oscar Wilde. When he attempts to put on an amateur production of Wilde's Salome in the local church hall, Alfie confronts the forces of bigotry and shame over a love "that dare not speak its name".
Infused with Irish charm, soaring ballads and toe-tapping ensemble numbers, A Man of No Importance won the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award for best off-Broadway musical. Director Andrew Baker said the musical was quintessentially Irish and it seemed like a natural fit to ask the Irish Theatre Players to get on board.
Playlovers and the Irish Theatre Players have joined forces to stage A Man of No Importance.
It's a great opportunity for Playlovers to forge a stronger relationship with a company that's just down the road from us," he said. "Of course, with a musical set in Dublin, we'd be crazy not to try and attract some genuine Irish talent to our show as well.
"A Man of No Importance is not the most famous musical in the world so it was a challenge to spread the word and get people interested in auditioning, especially given the characters' ages range from 18 to 70. But our collaboration with the Irish Theatre Players paid off with some excellent local Irish talent coming out of the woodwork."
The collaboration offers the Irish Theatre Players a chance be involved in a musical, a theatrical form they rarely produce. "The Irish Theatre Players are very excited to be working with Playlovers to stage this wonderful musical," president Claire Wynne said.
To help ensure a true artistic collaboration, the company's artistic director Mary Murphy has come on board as assistant director of the show. In addition to Andrew and Mary, the experienced creative team includes Tim How (musical director), Claire Nichols (choreographer) and Rhiannon Walker (designer).
The musical's structure has presented some interesting challenges, according to Andrew. "Alfie's story is told by his own friends, the loveable band of amateur actors he directs at St Imelda's Players," he said. "It's intensely theatrical, playful and not at all conventional. Getting the audience to take this imaginative leap with us will be a challenge – but a fun one!"
David Gardette and Daisy Valerio as Alfie and Adele in A Man of No Importance.
First performing in musical theatre at school, Andrew appeared in numerous shows at Playlovers before training at the WA Academy of Performing Arts for three years and moving to Melbourne to work professionally. He returned to Perth last year and was named best actor at the annual Finley Awards for his role in Sordid Lives.
Andrew said one simple reason made A Man of No Importance appealing to him: the music. "Ahrens and Flaherty have a way of creating work that hits deep," he said. "The music and the emotional arc of the play are intensely moving for me. When I was at drama school, training as a musical theatre performer, the show had just premiered in New York and was a popular source of material for me and my fellow students.
"It's also the kind of show that community theatre can do better than the professionals, in a way. It could never be produced commercially in Australia and, at its heart, it's all about the eccentricity and charm of community theatre."
The cast of A Man of No Importance are put through their paces to deliver a quintessentially Irish musical.
A Man of No Importance plays at 8pm November 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, December 3, 4 and 5 with 2pm matinees November 22 and 29. Tickets are $25, $20 concession – book on 0415 777 173 or at www.playlovers.org.au. A high tea follows the November 29 performance and is an additional $5.
Playlovers is located at Hackett Hall, Draper Street (off Underwood Avenue), Floreat.