This already acclaimed show is enjoying a brief run at one of London’s most beautiful theatres. If you have any doubts about musicals made from movies, then think again. Full of invention and intelligence, Amélie on stage is an escape from the screens we’ve been glued to during lockdown. And I loved it for that alone.
Craig Lucas’ book follows Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant’s film faithfully. The quirky touches around the life of the titular French waitress we follow are present. But the adaptation is far from slavish: rising to the challenge of bringing suicidal goldfish and travelling garden gnomes to the stage, Michael Fentiman’s direction embraces eccentricity.
Time is taken over Amélie’s childhood (with a “neurotic and an iceberg” for parents), then on her adventures trying to help others. Oh, and Lady Di’s death features too… leading to a number for Elton John just as brilliantly insane as it sounds. Romance comes later, by which time, thanks to Audrey Brisson’s performance in the title role, a crazy courtship with equally oddball Nino is compelling.
There are appropriately novel touches in the music from Daniel Messé. The songs echo the show’s obsession with the senses – highlighting sight, smell, touch and taste. A number about figs is ripe to join lists of obscure song subjects. The lyrics, by Messé and Nathan Tysen, go a long way in saving the show from too much sentimentality by being unusually morbid…well, it’s a strategy.
Amélie is not perfect. No man could be good enough for our heroine, but the character of Nino really needs some work (far too dull despite Chris Jared’s efforts). Both score and story try hard to be profound. Too hard at times. We can admire getting Zeno’s paradoxes into a musical, but the treatment is heavy handed. The show’s charm and humour are occasionally overplayed. And there’s a big problem with cod accents… understandable, but nonetheless annoying.
Focusing on Amelie’s dreams and imagination is enhanced by a talented cast that brings her world to the stage. The fact that they are all actor-musicians helps – wouldn’t it be great if everyone carried around instruments in real life? But the ensemble is especially graceful: huge credit to movement director Tom Jackson Greaves and a special mention for Kate Robson-Stuart’s performance. An awful lot gets done with pianos and ’cellos, as instruments form a part of Madeleine Girling’s wonderful full-of-surprises set. And the puppetry by Dik Downey is effective. The result is a pleasant irony – while the show talks about how hard times are for dreamers, Amélie brings dreams to the stage with ease.
Until 25 September 2021
Photos by Pamela Raith