With the weight of a successful film bearing down upon it, Amélie The Musical finds itself in the unenviable position of having to be compared to both the movie and it’s original Broadway run. But, the UK premiere has been significantly reworked from the version that opened in the States and is much more closely aligned to the charming appeal of the celluloid version.
The young Amélie Poulain, portrayed initially by a puppet, lives a sheltered childhood. Her neurotic mother and germophobe father believe her to be in poor health, so shield her from any kind of human interaction. Even her pet goldfish is bid Au Revoir as it is tossed in to the Seine. And so the adult Amélie, who has left home to work in a café in Montemarte, finds it painfully difficult to interact with others.
Inspired by the life of Princess Diana, who is killed in Paris at the same time this musical is set, Amélie tries to improve the lives of those around her, all while remaining isolated herself. The catalyst is the discovery of a memory box which she manages to return to its rightful owner, forty years after it had been hidden. Soon her quiet influence extends to her friends in the café and strangers on the street, and in particular Nino, a young man who collects torn photographs for a scrapbook.
Of course Nino, is the love interest but how can our heroine hope to find romance, when she can’t even strike up a conversation, instead resorting to puzzles and riddles to help him find his missing book. Both Audrey Brisson as Amélie and Danny Mac as Nino give really beautiful performances, and the vocals are simply stunning.
What Amélie The Musical, and director Michael Fentiman in particular, have done extremely well is to capture the whimsical nature of the film. Amélie lives in a world of imagination and the whole production has this magical quality to it. Craig Lucas’s book combined with music by Daniel Messé, who also provided lyrics alongside Nathan Tysen, feels like a fairytale set to a folksy French score.
The music is provided by a group of talented actor musicians who work their instruments in to the staging. The first act feels like a lot of jigsaw pieces coming together, with a satisfying conclusion just before the interval. The second act does feel somewhat padded, and it takes a little too long to get to its climax.
Madelaine Girling’s two tier set remains in a constant throughout, but does manage to reveal a Parisian underground station, Amélie’s cosy apartment and a sex shop to name but a few. The musical is set in 1997, but the whole look is of a somehow more familiar wartime European. The Art Nouveau style of the design creates a wonderful feeling of nostalgia.
Amélie The Musical is utterly charming, the staging is beguiling and the whole cast do a marvellous job. At some points it lacks direction of travel, but with so much to devour and enjoy, this is a fantastic stage adaptation of a beloved film.