By Beki Pineda

A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE. Book by Terrence McNally; music by Stephen Flaherty; lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; directed by Rod Lansberry.  Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada) through May 17. Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or www.arvadacenter.org.

The happiest people I’ve known are those who have discovered their passion in life. It may be a life partner, their child or children, an occupation, a sport. In my world, for a lot of people, it’s theater. I once knew a happy man who crated items for a museum all day as his job, but bowled at night and had a roomful of trophies and joy in his life. For Alfie, the subject of this play (a sweetly touching Kevin Loreque), his day job as a bus conductor provides the wherewithal to allow him to pursue his evening passion of being the director of the St. Imelda’s Players, a small community theater group who frequently stage the plays of Oscar Wilde.

Alfie has a comfortable niche in life despite his sister’s constant attempts to find him a suitable wife. His innocent remark to her about a new female passenger on his bus triggers an avalanche of prayers of thanks to St. Dorothy, as well as plans to invite the unknowing bride-to-be to Sunday tea. Alfie lives with his sister Lilly (a very funny Heather Lacy), who has put her own life and potential marriage on hold to care for her brother. His plans for the new passenger, Miss Rice (Emily Van Fleet) were not concerned with romance but with the innocence and youth she could bring to the title role of Salome, his next play.

But this is 1960s Dublin, and when word gets out about the “smutty” and scandalous  script, the Church promptly shuts it down. In disappointment and despair, Alfie, goaded by the ghost of Oscar Wilde (Jeffrey Roark), goes to his local pub dressed in the flamboyant style of his idol. Humiliation and exposure follow, but instead of sending Alfie down the rabbit hole, a marvelous turn of events signals the possibility of a new life for him.

Along the way we are treated to lovely, lyrical and funny music from the composing team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the same team who brought us ONCE ON THIS ISLAND and RAGTIME. Lilly and her paramour Carney the Butcher (Jeffrey Roark once again) sing a very cute condemnation of the negative value of reading “Books.” Baldy, Alfie’s stage manager (Colin Alexander), reveals that the thing he misses most about his deceased wife is “The Cuddles Mary Gave.” That the older character Baldy could still feel so strongly about his long-dead wife underscores the loneliness and quiet despair of Alfie’s life, which has never contained cuddles of any kind. But soon the Players perk us and Alfie up with a delightful ditty—”Art”—about the difficulties of creating the right props, costumes and sets for their production. Their conclusion is that “Art” is hard work.

The anthem for the evening is the sentiment expressed in “Love Who You Love,” which ends Act I and is reprised by several characters in Act II.  It signals a growing self-awareness and newly-formed resolve to make the singers’ lives better. The evening begins and ends with the haunting voice of Mick Bolger, lead singer of the local Irish favorites Colcannon, remembering that “Love’s Never Lost.” In some musicals, it’s the story you remember; in others, it’s the music. In this one, it’s a perfect blend of a memorable story enhanced by memorable music.

The decision to have the members of Colcannon provide the musical background was a wise move and lends an unforgettable air of authenticity to the production. David Nehls’ skillful melding of the musicians onstage with the unseen musicians offstage was flawless. Brian Mallgrave’s sets continue to manipulate space in creative ways. A pub on stage keeps us firmly in Dublin, while a series of flying panels transports us to other locales. A baker’s dozen or so of chairs met nearly every other requirement for the set. Thanks to the wizardry of costumer Sally Ann Burke and wigmaker Diana Ben-Kiki, many familiar faces were nearly unrecognizable and could switch into a variety of characters. A local “actress” at the church could change looks completely and become a street girl in the pub in a matter of seconds, and then go back to the church or the bus just as quickly.

This was also an ensemble that played well together. Those smooth transitions between players into second or even third characters made the cast seem twice as large as it really was. I have long been a fan of Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s inventive choreography, so it was even more fun to see her finally step out of the background, be given some lines, and display her comedic acting chops. Jeffrey Roark’s arrogant turn as Carney the Butcher, who gets the leads in all the plays, was fun to watch. I’m fast becoming a fan of Heather Lacy, who plays the sister, Lilly, with loving concern. This role was a full 180 degrees from her last appearance at Arvada in THE ARCHBISHOP’S CEILING as a Russian spy of sorts.  The cast is full of local favorites who have performed together so many times—even a husband-and-wife duo—that rehearsals must have felt like family gatherings. That familiarity lends itself to the community portrayed on stage as well. Another brilliant production by the Arvada Center!

WOW factor: 9