Ryan Kiernan

Merrily We Roll Along Presented by the BCF Intern Company at Burlington County Footlighters

The opening scene of this musical took the audience to a party held in Frank Shepard’s honor. All the “movers and shakers” of Bel Air arrived to pay tribute to this towering titan of Tinseltown. As well they should have. While starting out as a small-time writer of musical scores, he’d achieved dizzying heights of prominence as a Hollywood movie producer. Everyone loved Frank; well, everyone except his ex-wife, his estranged writing partner and his life-long friend whom he drove to a life of alcoholism. For that matter, his ex-wife didn’t care for him, his current wife suspected him of infidelity, and potential wife number three had been attacked by wife number two. Merrily we roll along.

This annual installment of the Burlington County Footlighters Intern company served as an outstanding vehicle for these eager thespians. Director Kevin Esmond had a lot to work with here. The show featured numerous roles so that even the secondary characters had an opportunity to display their skills.  I’d especially give kudos to Mack Massey. He turned in a convincing performance playing a nine year old child.

The show featured an unusual time sequence. It began in 1976 and ended after Sputnik’s launch. Each act progressed backwards in time. We got to witness Frank’s rise to stardom in reverse. It’s difficult to keep an audience engaged with that structure. After all, they already know the ending when the play starts. Then again, in the talented hands of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, I remained interested.

The musical centered on the interlocking lives of three friends. Franklin Shepard (played by Ryan Kiernan) the music writer, Charlie Kringas (Alec Hamilton) the playwright, and Mary Flynn (Daio Floyd) a novelist. The three had exceptional chemistry together. One highlight of the show came when they sang as a trio on the tune, “Old Friends”.  While pressed together on a small couch, they had to execute some tricky choreography, also. I didn’t hear any of them go out of key the whole time.

Sondheim likes trios, apparently. Another one featured Mr. Kiernan, Mr. Hamilton, and Sarah Peszka (as Beth) singing “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” in the 1960 scene. This homage to the Kennedy clan included a bit of a traditional Irish dance. It also required the three to rattle-off the names of everyone in the Kennedy family very fast while in unison. (Sondheim likes sixteenth notes, too.)  The fact the cast remembered the all the lyrics alone impressed me. (more…)

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Theater Review – A Man of No Importance – Burlington County Footlighters Intern Co.

What an outstanding effort by an “Intern Company”! I attended a performance of A Man of No Importance at Burlington County Footlighters in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. The cast, crew and band performed an exceptional job of staging this production set in 1964 Dublin. They did so well with the costuming, dancing and Irish accents, that I could taste the Guiness. When I got up to leave the theater I caught myself looking around for my Nehru jacket. Talk about getting into a play!

A Man of No Importance was the most challenging musical I’ve ever seen. A number of scenes entailed solo singing without the benefit of musical accompaniment. To make matters tougher for the actors, but I can’t imagine the ardors of trying this in a thick Irish Brogue in front of a live audience. I give Ryan Kiernan (Alfie) great credit for taking on such a demanding role, I’d give him even more kudos for the outstanding way he pulled it off. Anthony Ieradi (Robbie) and Allie Payne (Lily) turned in exceptional vocal performances as well.

I liked the overall premise of the story. It showed the travails of a theater group attempting to put on a scandalous play in a church; that performance being Oscar Wilde’s Salome. (Hey, this was the 1960s.) As the drama progressed, the figure of Salome (Moira Miller) periodically danced in the background. Each time she’d appear, she’d remove one of her veils to reflect the further revealing of the tale. I won’t give away spoilers, but Oscar Wilde figured into the story and even spoke to Alfie on several occasions.

It surprised me to discover that (according to Wikipedia) the play was based on a 1994 film. I didn’t think that the major issues explored in the drama would have the same impact with a modern audience as they would in 1964 Dublin. Today, the ideas of a single mother, homosexuality and marital infidelity are blasé ideas to incorporate into a story. I realized the real point centered on how the protagonist (Alfie) responded to them. His friend Robbie told him he needed to see more of real Dublin. Alfie’s sister explained that he had a lot of books. The story served as an enlightening peek at one man’s voyage of self-discovery in a supposedly conservative society.

One issue I usually have with musicals in that the constant singing tends to break up the narrative flow. The songs in A Man of No Importance, helped advance the story. Mr. Kiernan’s rendition of “Welcome to the World” drew me into the character’s emotional state. I’ve never heard a song that achieved this so well.

Moira Miller (Salome) did an exceptional job with costume design. Everyone dressed just like someone from the period. I got a true sense that the action took place in the 1960s based on the actors’ attire. The added touch of the janitor’s “Yardbirds” tee shirt showed phenomenal attention to detail.

I have to admit that I liked the performers much more than I enjoyed the show itself. I’m always impressed by the skill level of the actors in so-called “community theater.” The traditional Irish dance at the opening of Act II was absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t believe that the performers in this show either attended high school or college. They seemed much too advanced in the craft for “interns”. They may be men/women of supposedly no importance now, but they’ll be big somebodies on Broadway someday if they keep turning in solid performances like they did today.