A Man of No Importance might be of importance historically for Bay Theatre Company: This is its first full-fledged musical, and the skilled cast of 11 transports us to 1960s Ireland to remind us of the value of art in everyday life and the need to express love.
The 2002 Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens musical is based on a 1994 movie of the same title.
Under company co-founder and artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne, music director Anita O'Connor with the assistance of choreographer Jen Kohlhafer, the cast brings the story and 20-song score to life.
Alfie Byrne is the unlikely hero, a bus conductor who comes alive when staging plays with actors who are his everyday passengers. He decides to stage Oscar Wilde's Salome in the parish hall at St. Imelda's - failing to grasp that this provocative play might offend parishioners' sensibilities just as he fails to come to terms with his own life and sexuality.
Better known as an actor, Karl Kippola as Alfie displays a good singing voice and invests feeling in each song. He talks and sings in a believable Irish accent.
Gillian Shelly is a standout as Alfie's spinster sister Lily.
She delivers a delightful "Books," a conversational tune with her suitor Carney, played by Kim-Scott Miller.
Miller gives us a butcher whose ultra-conservative beliefs prevent his participating in Alfie's play. He also plays the flamboyant Wilde with fine swagger.
Perhaps the best singer in the cast, local favorite Judson Davis, makes a strong Bay Theatre debut as hunky bus driver Robbie - the object of Alfie's unspoken affection in the "love that dares not speak its name."
If Davis doesn't have the best tunes to sing in this show, he makes them seem so.
His "The Streets of Dublin" rises to show-stopping status as the catchiest tune in the score. Like Kippola's Alfie, Davis' genuine-sounding Irish accent remains consistent when spoken and sung.
Another Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre favorite making a strong debut, Debbie Barber-Eaton shines as stage-struck Mrs. Grace, adding luster to the ensemble with her singing, deft comic skill.
Gregory Stuart brings extra dash to each part he plays, from wise compassionate Father Kenny to amateur actor/widower Jimmy, whose ode to his wife, "The Cuddles That Mary Gave," was the warmest and most moving musical moment of the evening.
Stuart also plays the flute well, providing some atmospheric solo work.
In a stunning Bay Theatre debut, Joe Thornhill delivers a quartet of roles requiring a wide gamut of emotions from bungling amateur actor to a menacing sexual predator.
As mysterious Adele, whom Alfie chooses for his Salome, Zehra Fazal makes a memorable Bay Theatre debut, creating a multidimensional character and delivering a heartfelt "Love Who You Love."
Erin Kennedy skillfully plays triple roles, as does Kathryn Falcone.
"A Man of No Importance" continues at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through Jan. 13 with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday except this Sunday. Tickets are $22 and $17 for seniors and students. Call 410-268-1333 or visit www.baytheatre.org.