NEW YORK — Roger Rees will star in the musical version of “A Man of No Importance,” based on the 1994 Albert Finney feature about a gay bus conductor who is an avid reader of Oscar Wilde. The title refers to Wilde’s play “A Woman of No Importance.”
The tuner reunites the “Ragtime” team of book writer Terrence McNally, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens. Under the direction of Joe Mantello, the show’s world premiere is set for October at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi Newhouse Off Broadway space.
Rees won a Tony for actor for “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” in 1982 and most recently was seen on Broadway in a 2000 Roundabout revival of “Uncle Vanya.”
Richard Thomas had been mentioned to play Alfie Byrne in “Man of No Importance,” but this spring Rees essayed the role in an LCT-sponsored reading.
‘Man’ and ‘Boy’
With its high-profile creative team, “A Man of No Importance” would appear a likely candidate for a commercial transfer from the tiny Newhouse to a Broadway venue.
A recent workshop of gay-themed musical “The Boy From Oz,” with Hugh Jackman playing the late entertainer Peter Allen, has been widely touted for a spring Broadway berth. The show features Allen’s songs, with book by “Bent” scribe Martin Sherman.
Does two make a trend? (Opening in August, the Broadway musical “Hairspray” will star Harvey Fierstein in a drag turn as Edna Turnblad, but that’s another phenomenon.)
Homosexual subject matter has been commonplace in stage plays for well over 20 years. But gay lead characters in musicals continue to be a rare legit breed.
The current Broadway productions of “Rent,” “The Full Monty” and “The Producers” feature gay supporting characters. The list of major Broadway tuners with gay lead characters, however, remains short. Most notable are “Cabaret” (1966), “The Rocky Horror Show” (1975), “La Cage aux Folles” (1983), “Falsettos” (1992) and “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993), with “Company” (1970) and its Bobby character still open to debate after three decades.
As the former artistic director of Playwrights Horizons, Andre Bishop gave William Finn’s one-act musicals “March of the Falsettos” (1981) and “Falsettoland” (1990) their respective world premieres at the small not-for-profit venue. They were produced together on Broadway under the title “Falsettos.” Bishop later produced Finn’s gay-themed “A New Brain” at Lincoln Center.
“Only in the past 25 years have playwrights written very unguardedly and autobiographically,” Bishop said. “There were very few gay-themed plays before that. As for musicals, there are so many fewer produced, so it has taken longer.”
Musicals usually require six years from conception to production, and since most of them are based on source material, the explosion of gay subject matter in plays and films of the 1990s is only beginning to find its way into the musical theater.