By Tulis McCall

Spoiler alert – one of my favorite moments in Classic Stage Company‘s “A Man Of No Importance” (and there are many) is the opening.

Jim Parsons is discovered onstage.

And no one in the audience claps.

Not one person claps.

In a recent interview, Austin Pendleton said that most actors hate entrance applause. “I haven’t done anything yet,” Pendleton said. “The only option open to me now is to disappoint you.”

So Woo-hoo and hallelujah – THANKS New York Audience.  Yes!  Audiences at Classic Stage Company are not hot off the tour bus.  They are locals.  They have to know how to get there from here. Which is not that easy.

They know that when an actor enters, no matter how famous, this person is an actor playing a character.  No applause needed.

Off to a good start.  Check.

“A Man of No Importance” is a musical where you can sit back, relax, and as the saying goes “let them entertain you.”

“A Man of No Importance” is a sweet musical.  It’s Irish through and through (in spite of the accents that fall short more than once) with the whimsy and melancholy, the hope and quiet desperation, the delusions and illusions that make a life.  Set in Dublin in 1964, this is the story of Alfie (Jim Parsons) the local bus driver/theatre director who treats his passengers to poetry on a regular basis.  His most recent production effort “Salome” by Oscar Wilde has been rejected by the local church in whose building it was to be performed.  It is deemed “dirty” when Alfie insists it is art.

Be assured that Alfie is aware of the quality of the work he and his troupe produce.  It’s awful.  “But we had a grand time thinking we were bloody wonderful,” sez he “and is that not worth something?” Yes indeed.

Through the magical door of theater, Alfie’s little troupe appears out of nowhere and announces they are STILL going to put on a show.  A real show.  Starring a real person – Alfie.  It is going to be the story of how the situation came to be what it is.  Alfie will cease directing and instead play himself.  The name of the musical “A Man Of No Importance.”

On paper this sounds like a terrible, horrible, not-so-very-good idea.  Wrong.

We glide through Alfie’s life as though we are on a guided tour.  His sister Lily (fabulous Mare Winningham) would like to get married to her long time suitor Mr. Carney (Tom Sesma) but will not leave her brother while he is unmarried. The problem is he shows more interest in cooking and in books than in women.  Of course there is a reason for that.  Our boy Alfie is gay.  Oops. In 1964 Dublin not only is this frowned upon, it is a sin, AND it is illegal.  You see the problem.

The easier path for Alfie is to disappear into another world – anything as long as it is not his.  His world is filled with confusion.  Theatre seems like a good alternate choice.

The music guides us through the neighbor’s lives.  There are loves lost, loves forbidden.  There are secrets and yearnings.  People are patient and not so patient.  No one is as two dimensional as they seem.  Slowly the characters take up more and more space until the stage seems populated by dozens and the music has filled the theater to overflowing.

This is a rollicking ensemble, with more than one actor playing an instrument – violin, guitar, drum, clarinet (complimenting the 5-person orchestra in the balcony.  Reminiscent of “Girl From The North Country” but with a little more zip tossed into the mix.  Parsons wears the mantle of the leader and makes it look easy.  He has plenty of opportunities to steal focus, and these he avoids.  Instead he does what so many actors find difficult – he listens.  By his listening he invests in the other characters, thus imbuing them with even more life and light.  He listens.  We watch.  Story becomes a living being.

It is magic.

No wonder nobody clapped at the opening.  We saved our best for last.

A Man of No Importance, book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens,  based on a movie written by Barry Devlin and directed by Suri Krishnamma, starring Albert Finney  directed by John Doyle

WITH: Alma Cuervo, Kara Mikula,  Mary Beth Peil, Jim Parsons, Thom Sesma, A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stampley, Jessica Tyler Wright, Joel Waggoner, Mare Winningham and William Youmans  

The creative team includes John Doyle (Scenic Design), Ann Hould-Ward (Costume Design), Adam Honoré (Lighting Design), Sun Hee Kil (Sound Design