indie women productions has brought some amazing musicals to Ottawa, from the recent high-energy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to its spectacular Next to Normal. Their latest and last offering, A Man of No Importance, has some great moments but it’s nowhere near the same league as those modern classics.
This show follows a non-descript bus driver as he leads a community theatre group in a contentious production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Along the way, he comes to terms with his own sexual identity and discovers who his true friends are. It’s a sometimes predictable and often slow-moving story with some very sweet scenes and likeable characters. Coming from the team who brought us Seussical, the songs in this contemporary American musical are similarly pleasant without being the least bit memorable – which is basically how I felt about the show in general.
Unfortunately, a mediocre show can only be salvaged by a stellar production and this was not it. Cast members forgot their lines mid-song, supporting characters were two-dimensional, and there were a number of roles I felt were miscast (notably Father Kenney and Baldy). I know that Baldy’s solo song, performed by Richard Cliff, brought some audience members to tears but it was cloying and the vocal treatment was bland in my opinion. Similarly many found the company numbers (First Rehearsal, and Art in particular) to be fun and uplifting but I found them annoying and pointless. Thankfully the harmonies were absolutely gorgeous, so I could at least enjoy it on that level.
It is worth noting that despite some annoying weaknesses, there were aspects to enjoy in this show. Patrick Teed and Justice Tremblay, both familiar faces from the recent UOMTS production of American Idiot, have cemented their status as actors to watch for and I’m excited to see what they do next. They both brought a refreshing, vibrant realism to their characters and their voices are delightful. Arlene Watson as Lily, the protagonist’s sister, was incredible and almost stole the show. She hit the right balance between comedy and drama, believability and theatricality, and was a treat to watch.
Musical theatre veteran Shaun Toohey absolutely shines in the lead role. His accent is spot-on throughout the show, his compassion and gentleness makes the character instantly sympathetic, and his voice is as charming as ever. Over the years I’ve realized that if Toohey is in a show, it is guaranteed to be enjoyable at least while he’s on stage. My only complaint with his performance is that it was too reminiscent of some of his past roles and I would have liked to see him stretch more as an actor.
If you’re in a good mood this is a beautiful play that proves we are all extraordinary and our stories are all important, even if we sometimes think otherwise. If you don’t feel like a long night of the musical theatre version of a Lifetime movie, give this a pass.
But that’s just my opinion. I want to know what you thought. Was this a gentle treatment of homophobia and acceptance, or a lame piece of preachy poetry? Who stood out as being a star in Salome, and who would you love to see again? Tell me what you’re thinking in the comments below.
A Man of No Importance is presented by indie women productions. It runs now through March 25th at The Gladstone Theater off Preston Street. Visit their show page for performance times and to purchase tickets. Take advantage of their restaurant deal: show your ticket at The Heart and Crown for 15% off your purchase.