With a score from prolific composer Michael Legrand, you may be wondering why it’s taken so long for Amour to finally make its professional debut in London. A less than successful run on Broadway nearly two decades ago may go someway to explaining a reluctance to stage this fantasy musical again, but Danielle Tarento has done what she does best, and transformed the production, directed by Hannah Chissick, in to a chamber musical which thoroughly charms its audience.
Set in Montemarte shortly after the end of the second world war, we meet a Dusoleil, a conscientious, but inconspicuous office worker, who one night during a power cut discovers that he can inexplicably walk through walls. Coming to terms with his new found powers, and while still trying to retain his own moral compass, he becomes Passepartout, a local hero comparable to Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
This new skill does not do much to improve his shy and retiring nature, and much of the musical sees him attempting to woo the attractive Isabelle, who is held captive by her much older husband, the Prosecutor General. But the course of true love doesn’t always run smooth and there’s more than one sting in the tale for these star-crossed lovers.
Legrand’s music is varied and rousing, often catchy and with an act one finale that will keep you humming throughout the interval. Jeremy Sams’ English translation of the book is somewhat humdrum, don’t expect to be challenged by the plot, or see any kind of depth to the characters, they simply exist as characters in a fairytale tend to do. This sung through musical tends to be on the wispy side, with an over reliance on rhyme (I had no idea so many words could rhyme with wall) and a tendency to over sugar coat everything.
But for all the faults with the book, the joie de vivre exuding from the cast overshadows the occasional shortcoming. Gary Tushaw succeeds in giving Dusoleil a meaningful personality, and when paired with Anna O Byrne’s Isabelle, the magic really does come through. Claire Machin gives the audience plenty to enjoy, her fantastic vocals aside, her portrayal of the town prostitute is joyous, and has the audience in hysterics.
On opening night, understudy Jack Reitman stepped in to the roles of Gendarme, Doctor and President following a cast illness, it was a flawless delivery and Reitman gave each of these characters a distinctive voice with an impassioned performance.
Adrian Gee’s set design is almost entirely drained of colour, with the action revolving around a single lamppost, while chairs and suitcases transform in to various props and settings. It gives the whole production the sense of an old black and white movie, hopelessly romantic and laced with reminiscence. The set acts as a canvas for the vivid lighting design from Rob Halliday, which creates an overall sumptuous look. Matt Cole has choregraphed some big production numbers, as well as a gentler flow in the majority of scenes, making Amour a visual treat, with just a hint of magic thrown in.
Marketed as a bedtime story for adults, you won’t find yourself put to sleep by the languishing book, mainly thanks to the energy of the cast, and the fantastic design. Take it at face value and allow yourself to be swept up in the dreamlike romantics of it all, and you’ll find this production of Amour is an enchanting love letter to anyone who has ever dared to dream.
Amour is at The Charing Cross Theatre until 20th July 2019.