Roger Rees will play the lead role in A Man of No Importance, a new musical by composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and librettist Terrence McNally. The Lincoln Center Theater show will start rehearsals on Aug. 1.
The production bows in September at the Off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, a spokesman for the show previously confirmed. The show received a reading at Lincoln Center Theater in March 2001. Joe Mantello directed and will repeat his duties this summer.
The show is based on the 1994 film of the same name. The movie, set in 1963 Dublin, starred Albert Finney as Alfie Byrne, a closeted gay bus driver with a passion for Oscar Wilde. The title is a play on the Wilde work A Woman of No Importance. The film concerns Alfie's torn passion for two people and his coming to terms with his true nature as he gets involved in a church staging of a Wilde play.
Rees will play the Byrne role. Though he has many Broadway credits to his name—Indiscretions, The Rehearsal, Uncle Vanya and, most famously, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby—Rees is not know for him musical theatre work. A native of England, he possesses a range a West End experience as well.
* "We're going to have a small reading next week, just to get our heads back into it," Ahrens said April 26. "We're still casting certain roles. We go into production Aug. 1 — we start rehearsals."
Richard Thomas had been attached as a possibility for the role of Alfie, but is no longer part of the project, Ahrens said. "Richard was unable to do the production for a couple of different reasons," Ahrens said. "So we still have not cast the lead role and we're just holding our judgment on that for a little while."
The cast totals 13, an intimate size Ahrens and Flaherty wanted for their new work, following the large-cast Seussical and Ragtime.
"After Ragtime that's what we wanted to do, something really small," she said.
Whose idea was it to make the film a stage musical?
"Terrence found it," Ahrens said. "He had seen it, and he brought it to us. We had been talking about doing something else together [following Ragtime]. We saw it and we loved it."
The show is still set in Ireland in the 1960s. "We haven't changed the time or place," she said, adding that the music is "all kinds of Irish, from contemporary stuff to '60s stuff to really traditional Irish stuff, but it's all Stephen Flaherty. It's Flaherty-inflected."
Mantello recently directed the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Noel Coward's Design for Living. His fall 2001 project, Stephen Sondheim's Assassins — Mantello's first musical assignment — was postponed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Manhattan. It's likely for fall 2003. His best known work remains McNally's plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Corpus Christi. He also staged Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues.
For Ragtime, Ahrens and Flaherty won the Tony Award for Best Score and McNally won for Best Book.
To view Playbill On-Line's April 30 Brief Encounter interview with Lynn Ahrens, click here.
— By Kenneth Jones
and Robert Simonson