Amélie The Musical to give it its full title, is based on the 2001 French film that won a number of awards around the world and was nominated for five Oscars. The musical started its life in small theatres but transferred to Broadway in 2017 where after just 56 regular performances, it closed.
This production was originally produced at The Watermill Theatre in Newbury and after this run at the New Wimbledon Theatre, it tours the UK and Ireland until October at twenty theatres from Inverness to Exeter.
Now I usually try and give a short synopsis of any production I review but in the case of Amélie The Musical I’m not sure I can as to say that the plot is convoluted would be a giant understatement – the Wikipedia version is over 1400 words long and I don’t get that much space for a complete review! Suffice to say it’s basically a love story between Amélie a shy, introverted dreamer and Nino whose main purpose in life is to find a mysterious man who after taking his picture in various photo booths, he then tears them up and throws them on the floor – I told you it was convoluted!
Set in Paris between 1975 (when Amélie was born) and the late nineties, Madeline Girling’s two storey, set design, combined with Elliot Griggs diffused lighting, combine to create a quintessential Parisian atmosphere. The production at times is quite magical with a photobooth becoming a confessional, a piano converting into a bar and a lampshade that takes Amélie from the ground to her first-floor apartment.
The performances are all very strong with Audrey Brisson the stand-out bring a sweet naivety to the eponymous Amélie. One of the features of the production is that the actors play instruments as they act, sing and dance and the string-heavy, acoustic instrumentation works really well adding another dimension to the production.
However, whilst this was a Broadway musical, it’s more of a chamber piece and that could be the reason it didn’t have a long run. Even the 1670-seater New Wimbledon Theatre seemed too big at times and I’m sure it would have worked a lot better at the much more intimate Watermill Theatre which only seats 220 and for me that was one of the problems with the production.
Another problem was as well as the complicated and at times confusing plot was the staging. I’m not sure if the French have a version of the phrase “Everything bar the kitchen sink” but that’s what this production has. There are projections, dancing gnomes, giant figs, puppetry, large dildos and Elton John!
Also, some of the cast’s accents come straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo. I don’t really know why they went down that route – after all it was obvious that we were in Paris. Last week I saw “Amour” another musical set in Paris, but there they used English accents and the piece was much better for it. Also, whilst the characters spoke mainly in English, occasionally they would say “Bonjour”, Merci” etc. – why?
I think another reason it may not have been a success on Broadway was that most of the songs are fairly ordinary and apart from a few ballads such as “The Girl With The Glass” nothing sticks in the memory. In fact, by far the loudest applause of the night was for the Elton John pastiche sung by Elton and a gospel choir.
So, whilst I didn’t dislike Amélie The Musical, I didn’t love it either and I so wanted to. I really enjoyed the quirkiness of the original movie, but the plot here is so confusing, meandering all over the place with detours along the way to tell secondary character’s stories, that some of the quirkiness gets subsumed by what’s going on around it. Oh, and it’s long – very long – well over two and half hours including an interval. The second act seemed to go on forever. I love musicals and I enjoy hearing great songs sung well but towards the end, even I was starting to echo a much-used comment of a friend of mine (who’s not mad about musicals) “Please not another song”.
Review by Alan Fitter
Amélie is the story of an astonishing young woman who lives quietly in the world, but loudly in her mind. She secretly improvises small, but extraordinary acts of kindness that bring happiness to those around her. But when a chance at love comes her way, Amélie realises that to find her own contentment she’ll have to risk everything and say what’s in her heart. Although times are hard for dreamers, Amélie is someone to believe in…
With music by Hem’s Daniel Messé, lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé and book by Craig Lucas, this new musical adaptation of the five-time Oscar®-nominated film written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant, is directed by Michael Fentiman.
22 – 25 May 2019
New Wimbledon Theatre