Review: 'A Man of No Importance' by Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork

Nancy Sasso Janis 

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

Oakville, CT - Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork presents the musical ‘A Man of No Importance’ through Sept. 5 on their stage in Oakville. The little-known musical is based upon a film of the same name. The show was written by the same team that brought us both ‘Ragtime’ and ‘Seussical.’ The book is by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. This tender piece is on a smaller scale perhaps, but there were moments in the music that echoed ‘Ragtime’ and some gentle humor that made this a memorable production.

Donna Storms directed the talented cast while Maurice Steinberg did well as music director and conductor of the five-piece orchestra that sat on the corner of the stage and was perfectly suited for the space. 

‘A Man of No Importance’ tells the story of an amateur theatre group in 1963 Dublin and their leader, a bus conductor named Alfie Byrne, who is determined to stage an amateur theatrical production of ‘Salome’ at his church, despite the objections of church authorities. More to the point it tells the important story of a closeted homosexual as he struggles with temptation and friendships in the early sixties in staunchly Catholic Ireland, when pious groups called sodalities worked hard to maintain traditional ways. 

PSC founder and managing director Ed Bassett stars as Alfie, a role that is close to his heart. He sang the songs of Alfie, “Love’s Never Lost,” “Man in the Mirror,”  “Love Who You Love,” and the final “Welcome to the World” with a gentle tenor voice and gave a heartfelt performance as this unassuming character. Some audience members were brought to tears by the end of the second act by his work onstage.

In the supporting role of bus driver Robbie Faye was the magnificent voice and stage presence of Ian Diedrich. He took the lead on “Streets of Dublin” and with the fine support of the company made it memorable. It is always a treat to see this singing actor on any stage and he was perfectly suited for this role. 

Jane Coughlin took on the role of Alfie’s devoted sister Lily as only she can in a show that has been near and dear to her heart for many years. Brian Elser stepped out of his role as assistant stage manager to play Father Kenny, the overbearing supervisor Mr. Carson and a thug; this young man has shown such growth as an actor throughout his years at the PSC. 

As members of the acting troupe (and bus riders) were Kathy Cook as Miss Crowe, Deb Diamante as Mrs. Grace, Beth Steinberg as Mrs. Curtain, Aric Martin as Ernie Lally, Bill Knight as Sully O’Hara, and Leland Schick as Rasher Flynn (and what a tenor this young man is!) Deborah Goodman was strong as Mrs. Patrick and Jeff Savage as Baldy touched our hearts with the song for his deceased wife, “The Cuddles Mary Gave.” 

Tony Enright played the mysterious Breton Beret, while Glory Smith (PSC debut) played pub bartender/Irish dancer Kitty Farrelly. Denise Skelton rounded out the ensemble.

Chuck Stango pulled a hat trick to play sodality member William Carney with only seven days of preparation. He also played the shadowy role of Oscar Wilde so well that I wasn’t entirely sure that it was him until he had a line. 

Breakout star of this production was Leah Nashel in her debut with the PSC in the role of a young newcomer Adele Rice. Her lilting soprano and earnest face were perfect for her character and her costume designed by Lori Poulin was my favorite.I look forward to seeing this Westover School graduate from Newtown in future productions. 

Lighting designed by Mr. Diedrich was done well and Erin Elser helped with the Irish Dance choreography. Rob Richnavsky consulted as fight director and Mr. Bassett constructed the set. 

It was wonderful to see the PSC “Going Up!” with a musical production in the new home that they have been in for over year. For some reason it made me miss them being in Naugatuck even more. 

The collaborative production of ‘Loose Ends’ with Backyard Theatre Ensemble has been pulled from their schedule. Next up will be ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’ opening on October 8. Try to catch a performance of ‘A Man of No Importance’ before it closes next weekend.