Thursday, March 23, 2017

Amélie Is Magical and Adorable

When the world is in a crazy and unsettling time, sometimes you want to escape in the theater with a light-hearted musical. That's exactly what Amélie offers which opens on Broadway April 3rd. It is magical, charming, quirky, and adorable! Based on a 2001 French film, Amélie grows up in a sheltered family. Her parents believes she has a heart defect so they home-school their lonely introverted daughter. Touching and connecting are not common with her parents so a fish becomes her only friend and she lives in a fantasy world. Once grown, she moves to Paris, works in a cafe with very eccentric people, and inspired by Princess Diana decides to perform random acts of kindness...in a hidden attempt at searching for love, connection, and acceptance. 

Not your average story for a musical, but Craig Lucas who brought us the mystical Prelude to a Kiss and the book for An American in Paris and Light in the Piazza (to name a few) has taken the film characters and given them theatrical purpose that makes sense in this one act musical. The moment the first notes started from the small orchestra, I felt transported to a magical place. Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen have written a score that I know I will want to return to again. Reminiscent of William Finn, the score evokes emotion, excitement, and wonder. The writers chose to stay away from standard "French sounds" and have created a universal musical voice for the piece. 

While I complained about direction from War Paint, I am in awe of the world Pam MacKinnon has created (who is known for directing plays) in this musical. There is constant movement where ensemble people play multiple roles. The fact that Amélie mixes fantasy with reality, the musical is a stylized piece of those two worlds that makes one think of Dr. Seuss with the feeling of Matilda. (I actually liked this better. Perhaps because they chose NOT to do French accents and I understood everyone on the stage which I did not during Matilda.) Sam Pinkleton's musical staging is a delight to watch and the set, costumes, lighting, projections are all a marvel in this show. A huge kudos to those designers for transporting us in a fun and fresh way.

The cast is lead by Phillipa Soo who left her lead role in Hamilton to work on this musical out on the road before they brought it to Broadway. (Interesting note: she also created the female lead in The Great Comet which is also now on Broadway.) She is absolutely adorable to watch on stage with a voice like silk. Joy permeates on her face and you can't help but be affected by it in your seat. (There are obviously some Hamilton groupies that attend the show because of this young rising star.) Adam Chanler-Berat (from Peter and the Starcatcher and Next to Normal) brings his normal youthful exuberance to this role which is also infectious. 

I was also happy to see Tony Sheldon back on Broadway along with the other 10 performers who is the most diverse cast I've seen in a long time. By that I mean it is a quirky assortment of people that each stand out in a very unique way, making the evening all that more irresistible. (Come on, one guy gets to do a riff on an Elton John type character and another gets to be the traveling gnome...where else will you get to see this?)

As the show did run out of town, I was able to read previous reviews. The show has gone through changes from those productions and even during previews they have removed songs and added others. I've read some say if you have not seen the movie you will be lost seeing this musical. False. I went in cold knowing NOTHING of the show and followed along with no problem. 

Hopefully they can get it cut down to a more manageable running time since there is no intermission. While it may not follow the regular rules of other musicals, there is something very special and wonderful about Amélie's world. Trimming it a bit would make the sweetness of that world taste better, leaving the audience wanting seconds.

If you are looking for something different, light, and unique - treat yourself to the endearing Amélie.

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