January 6, 2005.By John Townsend, Lavender Magazine.

Retreading the Boards: The Year in Theater

Townsend’s Top 10

3. A Man of No Importance (Theater Latte Da) Director Rothstein bought a bleak sense of majesty to this memorable tale of homophobia in 1960s Dublin.


And The Winner Is…

Best Actor (Musical) Tod Petersen, A Man of No Importance (Theater Latte Da)

Fab 50

August 20, 2004.By Lavender.

21. Theatrical Production: A Man of No Importance Runner-up: Pirates of Penzance

Theatre Latte Da’s production of A Man of No Importance was overwhelmingly popular with queer audiences.

On one hand, the Flaherty-Ahrens-McNally musical reflects a page in queer cultural history. On the other hand, it speaks to how many queer folk still are shunned today, 40 years later.

As directed by Peter Rothstein, A Man of No Importance became a cryptically luminous vision. Bathed in deep purples and pine greens, Latte Da bleakly reflected on the lonely abyss engulfing humble gay bus conductor/amateur stage director Alfie, relflecting a kind of heterosexual purgatory.

Music director Denise Prosek exquisitely balanced the gifted ensemble with simple orchestral accompaniments. “Streets of Dublin” stirringly was sung by Dieter Bierbrauer as Robbie, the straight guy Alfie yearns for.

And Petersen’s Alfie was brave, anguished portrayal of being gay in an insidiously Catholicized culture.

Minneapolis/St. Paul

April 30, 2004.By Michael Sander, Backstage.

A sensitive mounting of the McNally-Flaherty-Ahrens musical A Man of No Importance, presented by Theater Latté Da at the Loring Playhouse, is a highlight of recent Twin Cities theatrical offerings. The show itself has its flaws, both musical and dramatic, but insightful direction by Peter Rothstein and a strong, vocally gifted cast, led by the unsentimentalized performance of Tod Petersen as bus conductor Alfie Byrne, combine to make it the moving experience the authors intended. Ann Michels, Dieter Bierbrauer, Zoe Pappas, and George Muellner provide strong support, and Denise Prosek’s musical direction is a particular asset.

Another impressive production is the Jungle Theater’s The Drawer Boy, Michael Healey’s widely produced drama about the farmhouse secrets and discoveries. Another notable local director, Casey Stangl, guides Wayne Evenso, Kurt Schwejckhardt, and Tony Clarno in an artful portrait that never veers into melodrama. Jungle artistic director Bain Boehlke’s set design maintains his usual high, dramatically responsive standard.

At the Guthrie, director Ethan McSweeny hauls Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into an ill-fitting 21st-century world of Vespas, steel scaffolding, and leather suits (set and costumes by Mark Wendland). Guthrie veterans Stephen Pelinski, Richard S. Iglewski, and Stephen Yoakam offer vibrant performances in supporting roles, but there is an unfortunate hollow where the title characters should live. There’s something seriously amiss with an R&J in which the most impressive turn is Pelinski’s Lord Capulet.

On the touring front, Hairspray, at the Orpheum, is a delightful rendering of the Broadway hit. Not having seen the show previously, I can only note that Bruce Vilanch is deftly amusing and overwhelmingly womanly as Edna Tumblad, and the vibrant Carly Jibson (reportedly soon to step into the Broadway original) is a vocal and choreographic delight as her daughter Tracy. The dancers do the lion’s share of the work in this high-spirited show, and Jerry Mitchell’s choreography gets its full due. And at the State, the somber The Exonerated makes a strong argument for a re-examination of the criminal-justice system. At the head of the cast, Lynn Redgrave is emotionally powerful, but Brian Dennehy is so low-key as to almost disappear.

Sweet score fuels overlong musical

March 22, 2004.By Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press.

The only thing I remember from high school algebra is that, when you’re faced with a complex equation, you’re supposed to do the bits in parentheses first. You solve the smaller problems within the problem, and eventually you can decipher what the heck X stands for.

In Theater Latte Da’s pleasant production of the musical, “A Man of No Importance,” the X they’re solving for is Alfie, a meek Dublin bus conductor and director of amateur musicals who’s living a life of quiet desperation. By the end of 2 ½ hours, we’ve got him all figured out, but that understanding comes through a needlessly involved and mawkish dramatic equation that has entirely too much in the way of subplots and parentheses.

Ticking the thematic tangents off the top of my head: We’ve got a beautiful young lass with a secret, a devoted sister who’s not getting any younger, the machinations of a small-minded but powerful butcher, an extramarital affair and … oh, yeah, the periodic visits by Oscar Wilde. All the while, the play is trying to coax poor Alfie out of a sexual-orientation closet so dark and so deep he can barely find the doorknob.

That Terrance McNally’s book is so junked up and overly sentimentalized is kind of a shame, since composing team Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (the folks behind “Ragtime” and “Seussical’) have written a sweet score, one given charming voice by Theater Latte Da. The music has an overriding sense of, well, Irishness about it, but ranges both emotionally and musically, from small, highly personal ballads like “Love Who You Love” to broad, driving anthems like “The Streets of Dublin.”

Peter Rothstein does an adroit job at directing the piece, doing his best to mitigate its intrinsic shortcomings. He gives the show a homey, slightly tough-around-the-edges charm, a fitting tack for a show about working men and women. Music director Denise Prosek’s small orchestra includes a violin, a flute and a penny whistle, which nicely underscores Rothstein’s folksy approach to the material.

Tod Petersen’s Alfie gives the production a solid center. With his excuse-me-please smile and singing voice that’s pleasant but not classically powerful, he looks and feels just right as the middle-age man whose life is more books and fancy than gritty reality. Petersen treads a thin line – he earns our sympathy for Alfie but mainly avoids casting him as a victim of anything other than his own decisions.

Dieter Bierbrauer adds strong vocal and dramatic support as Robbie Fay, Alfie’s friend and the oblivious object of his affections. A couple of top-notch character actors – Vera Mariner and Walter Weaver – give the production warmth, humanity and common-touch humor. George Muellner struggles vocally in the role of Carney, the aforementioned self-righteous butcher.

However charming the cast members might be, though, they’re laboring across a dramatic path dotted with quicksand and rough side paths. “A Man of No Importance” isn’t a bad show by any means. It’s more like a pleasant guest who outstays his welcome.

What: Theater Latte Da’s production of “A Man of No Importance”

When: Thursdays-Sundays through April 17

Where: Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

Tickets: $25-$20; call 612-343-3390

Capsule: A decent musical that lingers longer than it should.

Elevating the average Alfie

March 14, 2004.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Tod Petersen relished the chance to play “A Man of No Importance.”

When actor Tod Petersen first listened to the CD of “A Man of No Importance,” he immediately identified with Alfie, the central character in the musical that opens Saturday in a Theatre Latte Da production at the Loring Playhouse.

“You live with your sister and don’t get out,” the lyrics said to Petersen, who lives in Minneapolis with his sister and apparently—although he didn’t say so explicitly—spends too much much time in front of the TV. The words of lyricist Lynn Ahrens had more to say when Petersen looked in the mirror.

“Who is this man in the thickening body, hair getting thin and chin going slack?” he said.

Understand that Petersen is no couch potato. The actor, singer and writer has created two shows based on his family, including “A Christmas Carole Petersen,” which has become a popular holiday tradition. He also collaborates with performers with disabilities at Interact Center for the Arts. That sense of elevating the human spirit through art also identifies him with Alfie, a Dublin bus driver who feels most alive when he is reciting Oscar Wilde and directing community theater in a church basement.

Basement rehearsals reinforce feel of show

Nonetheless, a specter dogs Petersen, Alfie and myriad other people soldiering alone through middle life: It is that “anonymous little man” starring back from the looking glass.

“This character is so despairing,” Petersen said.

And yet, Alfie is the focal point of a musical that celebrates self-worth. When all is said and done, he is George Bailey, cheered by his friends and convinced that he does have a “Wonderful Life.” He matters simply because he is in the world.

“A Man of No Importance” had high hopes when it debuted at Lincoln Center in 2002. The movie on which the musical was based had been a sleeper hit in 1994. The creative team for the stage version—playwright Terrence McNally, lyricist Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty—had constructed the Tony winner “Ragtime.” Good previews had stirred whispers that the show would quickly whisk over to Broadway. The critics, however, were lukewarm.

Latte Da director Peter Rothstein watched that New York production and within the first 10 minutes fell in love with it. He’d cooled off by intermission, but by the end of the evening he determined that he wanted to bring the musical to Minneapolis.

“It’s my favorite score to come out of New York in five years,” he said last week.

Rothstein feels the Lincoln Center staging was “overproduced and under-theatricalized,” with coiffed actors, a revolving stage, lavish sets and props.

“We’re stripping it down,” he said. “This is a working people’s theater so there’s a crassness that has to be there. That is the heart of the piece. We’re doing everything like it is in a church basement.”

If that recalls a cinematic cousin, “Waiting for Guffman,” that is exactly the lightness Rothstein and his cast are looking for.

In praise of small men Alfie, a Dublin bus driver in 1964, finds inspiration in Wilde, reciting poetry on the bus and directing plays in the church. These are his happiest moments, brimming with generosity and verve.

“Because of his art, his Oscar Wilde world, he is able to connect,” Petersen said.

He has been exposed as a gay man, reaching his emotional nadir before his compatriots endeavor to buck him up with the telling of a play within a play. He emerges healed and feeling appreciated as an authentic human being.

“Alfie feels the community is against him,” said music director Denise Prosek. “He knows he can’t be a part of the community. He can’t feel the love because he chooses not to feel it.”

Rothstein originally did not have Petersen in mind for the role. Albert Finney portrayed Alfie in the 1994 film adaptation as a stocky and rather slow chap. Roger Rees played the character in New York with physical zest and was referred to as being Hamlet-like by New York Times critic Ben Brantley. Petersen falls in between those extremes, but it’s not so much his corporeal qualities that convinced Rothstein he had the right actor.

“Tod has that quality,” Rothstein said. “There’s a lightness and charm to him, but also a darkness that he is willing to tap into.”

Those attributes of melancholy and mirth help define the Irish music that permeates the work. The sounds of bagpipes, recorders, violins and flutes animate melodies that alternate minor-key ballads and lilting, sweet melodies. Petersen calls the Celtic instruments “heart centered,” and Prosek refers to the music as earthy and grounded.

“It’s the most dramatically composed piece I’ve ever played,” she said.

It isn’t traditional Irish folk music, she said, but richly flavored by those haunting bridges and stout rhythms. Flaherty takes those influences and has given them an edge, a Broadway modernity. Her orchestra will use violin, flute, penny whistle, recorder, piano and synthesizer to approximate other Celtic sounds. Real bagpipes aren’t an option, she said, because they are too loud.

There are many resonances between the art of the play and this production. Like the Dublin thespians, Latte Da has rehearsed in a church basement for several weeks. Dieter Bierbrauer portrays a character who is having an affair with a lass portrayed by Ann Michels. In real life, they’re dating. And then there is Petersen, the sad/happy clown at the center of it all. Like Alfie, he is impressed by the collection of actors, designers and musicians surrounding him.

“The bench is deep,” he said, sounding like an optimistic coach. “Just being in the artistic process is freedom.”


A Man of No Importance

Who: By Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Directed by Peter Rothstein for Theatre Latte Da.

When: Opens 8 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. next Sun. Thru April 17.

Where: Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

Tickets: $10-$25. 612-343-3390, or http://www.ticketworks.com.