A Man of No Importance
A musical in 2 acts: Book by Terrence McNally; Music by Stephen Flaherty; lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; based on the film A Man of No Importance produced by Little Bird
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center Theater, New York - 10th October, 2002
Lights come up on St. Imelda's social hall, an ordinary church hall in 1964 Dublin. Alfie Byrne, a Dublin bus conductor, enters. With nostalgia and sadness, he recites a few lines from Oscar Wilde's play, Salome. Father Kenny, the parish priest enters, and we learn that Alfie has been barred from putting on his amateur production of Salome at St. Imelda's because it has been judged "a dirty play" by the parish elders. Alfie reluctantly begins to pack up the theatrical props. Soon memories overwhelm him, and in his imagination, his actors begin to put on their own play - the story of Alfie Byrne himself and the events which brought him to this moment. In song we are taken through the course of Alfie's ordinary day; we meet the most important people in his life - his sister Lily, the butcher Carney, his bus driver Robbie Faye, and the "blue coated girl," Adele Rice, as well as the members of the St. Imelda's Players, who ride his bus every day.
That night, Alfie tells his sister Lily Byrne about the girl who got onto his bus. At first Lily is thrilled that her unmarried brother has finally met a girl. This will allow her to get on with her own life. But Alfie tells her that the girl is not for him, she's for his new production. Leaving Lily to fume, he goes off to inform the St. Imelda's players that they will soon be opening with a new production. Mr. Carney, the butcher who always plays the lead, is delighted.
Back on the bus, Alfie tells his eager troupe that they will soon perform Oscar Wilde's play Salome, and reveals his idea that Miss Rice, a newcomer, will play the title role. Miss Rice can't understand why he would want to cast her as a princess but in the end, his enthusiasm for art wins her over, and she agrees.
Father Kenny hands over the keys to the church hall, and Alfie and Baldy (Alfie's friend and stage manager) prepare the hall for the first rehearsal. The troupe enters, scripts are distributed, and as the players form their intimate circle, Alfie tells them why the theatre means so much to him.
At the bus garage, Alfie tries to convince his driver Robbie Faye to join the production, but Robbie refuses. He has no interest in acting or poetry and takes Alfie out to a pub instead to show him the poetry of real life on the streets of Dublin. At the pub, Alfie is approached by a seductive and menacing young man named Breton Beret. Distressed and confused by the experiences of the evening, Alfie hurries home.
Meanwhile, Lily is spending an evening with her suitor, the butcher William Carney. Carney is outraged at the salacious language in Salome. He and Lily decide while getting drunk that Alfie has been led down the wrong path by the many books he keeps in his room. An upset Alfie comes home from the pub and hurries to his room, while Lily and Carney continue to drink.
In his room, Alfie confronts his own unhappy reflection
- a man who is afraid to admit to himself who he really is. The specter
of Oscar Wilde appears and urges Alfie to be honest with himself at
At the end of a rehearsal Lily enters and invites Miss Rice for tea in the hope of fixing Alfie up. At Lily's urging, Alfie reluctantly agrees to walk Miss Rice home. Alone, Lily hopes that her brother will grow up and give her a chance to have her own dreams.
As they stroll together, Adele confesses that she
already has a boyfriend, and bursts into tears, telling Alfie that "people
can be harsh judges." Alfie comforts her, telling her simply to
love who she loves. Alfie asks Adele if she knows what "the love
that dare not speak its name"
is, but she does not. Adele says goodbye and Alfie heads home, but
is approached again by Breton Beret. Alfie is torn
with indecision and fear by the young man's apparent invitation. Oscar Wilde appears again, telling Alfie: "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it."
A band of merrymakers gather to make music in a pub. In contrast Mrs. Patrick, a devout member of the St. Imelda's sodality, sings a hymn. As the revellers dance off, Mrs. Patrick kneels in prayer, and we see Alfie Byrne on his knees in confession. As he tries to tell Father Kenny what's really on his mind, Alfie imagines Robbie Faye.
After church, Alfie meets Baldy who is laying flowers on his wife's grave. Baldy confides to Alfie that he misses his wife and suggests that Alfie also needs good woman to make him happy.
Every actor in the troupe also performs a backstage job, and in their various capacities as prop master, wardrobe mistress, set designer, publicist and choreographer they present their ideas for the production to Alfie, in their grand pursuit of art.
During the rehearsal of her big scene, Adele breaks down and runs from the room. Alfie discovers that she is pregnant. At the same moment, Father Kenny arrives to escort Alfie to a meeting of the sodality, where Mr. Carney demands that this salacious play must be closed down. The St. Imelda's Players are barred from further use of the hall.
A distraught Alfie stumbles into the darkened bus garage where he interrupts Robbie Faye making love with Mrs. Patrick. Robbie shouts at Alfie not to judge them until he loves someone himself. Having lost both his play and Robbie, Alfie is driven to action at last. Looking at his image in the mirror once again, Alfie dresses up as Oscar Wilde, and is joined by Oscar Wilde himself. Dressed alike, the two of them stroll through the streets and Wilde gives Alfie the courage to enter the pub alone.
Alfie seeks out Breton Beret in the noisy, crowded pub. All noise ceases as Alfie approaches Breton Beret and asks him for a "cuddle." They leave the pub together. Out in the alley, Breton Beret caresses Alfie, but then, with sudden violence, strikes him to the ground and steals his wallet. A policeman runs to Alfie's aid, but not before he has been viciously beaten by Breton Beret's thugs. Lily and Carney happen to be passing by, and Lily is told to take her brother home. Now, everyone knows that Alfie is a homosexual. Carney is dumbstruck and the St. Imelda's players are scandalised and crushed.
The next day Lily demands to know why Alfie has lied to her for so many years. Alfie returns to his job on the bus, but Robbie Faye is gone and there is a new driver in his place. The poetry in Alfie's life has been replaced by scorn. Miss Rice gets on the bus one last time to return the advice he once gave her - that no matter how harsh people may be, you just have to love who you love.
As the play in his mind concludes, Alfie's actors
deposit him back where he started, alone in the church hall, with a
prop in his hand. They depart. Alfie realises that he can do nothing
more than try to live his life honestly. He can now say
"welcome to the world" with irony but also with hope.
As Alfie prepares to leave, the real Robbie Faye enters the hall. Robbie has a wig on his head, and "has come to be in the play." In fact, he has come to tell Alfie that no matter what Alfie has got up to, it makes no difference. They can still be friends.
The St. Imelda's Players return as well, although it is difficult for them to do so. They are there to support Mr. Byrne for the good man they know him to be, and for the joy his art has brought to their lives. The players form their intimate circle, perhaps for the last time, and their newest member, Robbie Faye is asked to read a verse by Oscar Wilde. As the lights dim and the poem is read, we see Alfie Byrne, a man of some importance after all, at the centre of his small circle of friends.
- A Man of No Importance - Alfie and Company
- The Burden of Life - Lily and Alfie
- Going Up - Carney and The St. Imelda's Players
- Princess - Adele and Alfie
- The Streets of Dublin - Robbie and Company
- Books - Carney and Lily
- Man in the Mirror - Alfie and Oscar Wilde
- Love Who You Love - Alfie
- Our Father - Mrs. Patrick and Company
- Confession - Alfie, Robbie and Father Kenny
- The Cuddles Mary Gave - Baldy
- Art - Alfie and the St. Imelda's Players
- A Man of No Importance (Reprise) - Mrs. Patrick, Breton Beret, Sully O'Hara
- Confusing Times - Carney and Alfie
- Love Who You Love (Robbie's Reprise) - Robbie and Alfie
- Man in the Mirror (Reprise) - Oscar Wilde, Alfie and Company
- Tell Me Why - Lily
- Love Who You Love (Adele's Reprise) - Adele and Alfie
- Welcome To The World - Alfie
- Poem - Alfie, Robbie and Company
Not used in the show
Love's Never Lost
Original Broadway Cast Recording - JAY - CDJAY 1369