*A Man of No Importance,* Nov 16, 2022
I saw *A Man of No Importance* at Classic Stage Company on November 16, 2022. It's a musical from 2002 based on a film with the same title from 1994. The book is by Terrence McNally, the music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. This is the same team who created *Ragtime* in 1996.
It's set in Dublin in 1964. The title character is Alfie, a bus conductor who is also the director for an amateur theatre group in the local Catholic church. He scandalizes his colleagues and the town by deciding to do a production of Oscar Wilde's play *Salome.* Alfie also comes to terms with his gayness and comes to realize that, as difficult as it is, he has to be honest it with his friends, family, and himself.
It's what I call "a little show," in the sense that it's a slice-of-life story - - nothing grand, nothing epic, just ordinary people dealing with seemingly ordinary issues. But that's where these stories really make their impact, because they often become highly relatable and meaningful for the audience. That was certainly the case here, it was a very touching and special show.
My primary reason for seeing it was because Nate Stampley was in the show. He and I are friends from college and I try and see everything he does because he's so extraordinary onstage. He oozes charisma, there's something so engaging and magnetic about him.
There were two "names" in the show: Jim Parsons (of *Big Bang Theory* fame) as Alfie and Mare Winningham (of Brat Pack fame) as his sister. They both have fascinating, unvarnished singing voices. They're the natural extension of their speaking voices, no fol-de-rol, no showiness, just direct and honest. They were a big reason of why the show was a success.
I want to give a shout-out to Shireen Ahmed, who played the woman who plays Salome. Maybe it's her curly hair, but she reminded me a lot of the great Melissa Errico. Her voice was a similar warmth, sweetness, and charm. I look forward to seeing her in another show.
The director was John Doyle. I've seen many shows he's done and they're always insightful and satisfying. This show had a little bit of his signature actors-playing-musical-instruments routine, but not too much of it.
I'll close by telling a personal story about Mary Beth Peil, who played the woman who played Salome's mother in the show. I had seen her a few times and always impressed me. I was very excited to see her in this show and to be one degree of separation (thought my friend Nate) from her because she had a part in a major turning point in my life.
She started her career as an opera singer and created the role of Alma in Lee Hoiby's *Summer and Smoke* at Minnesota Opera in 1971. She did that opera again at Chicago Opera Theater in 1980 and that production was filmed and put on PBS. Hoorah for the internet, the whole thing is here:
Her big aria is at 45:10.
I was twelve years old in 1980. My family was spending a typical weekend afternoon at my Aunt Karen and Uncle Ken's house in a small town north of Chicago. My brother and I had free rein in their house, we could do whatever we wanted. Within reason, of course. I found a quiet, secluded room, turned on the TV, flipped through the channels, and found *Summer and Smoke.* I knew nothing about opera but was completely transfixed and hooked for life. As someone who's become a major opera fanatic and a sometime opera composer, it seems so ironic and fitting that my first opera would be a contemporary American opera.
I passed this story on to Nate who passed it on to Mary Beth. He introduced us at the stage door and I was over the moon. As you can see in these pictures.