“Amelie” on Broadway Captures the Movie’s Quirkiness


Photo source: JOAN MARCUS

Confession: I’m a movie buff. I’ve seen most of the classics. One could call me a cinephile as I’m a French film lover. From Godard to Truffault to Renior to Malle to Rohmer, I’ve seen and studied French cinema.

In 2001, I saw a film called “Amelie” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I’ll never truly forget the pleasure I felt watching that movie. It starred the adorable Audrey Taotou, who played a dreamer. I remember her character zipping around Paris and delighting in the world that she lived in. She was quirky and an idealist. The film was colorful, and so very memorable. It was more or less an outburst of creativity and utter happiness. I think I left the cinema dancing.

So, of course I wondered how the story would translate to the stage now that it’s playing on Broadway over at the Walter Kerr Theatre, starring the so very (Broadway) famous Phillipa Soo. The book to the musical is by Craig Lucas, the music by Daniel Messe and lyrics by Messe and Nathan Tysen. The fabulous Pam MacKinnon directed. David Zinn made the set. My expectations were high.

I decided to take my teenage daughter to the show, knowing the draw for her was Soo, but I also wanted to orientate her to French culture since she went to Paris when she was 8 or 9 years old and remembers very little about the trip.

Staged in one act, “Amelie” has a small ensemble, filled with other veteran actors. Seeing this show made me realize how many shows I go to, as I seemed to recognize each actor from various shows I’ve seen. The set and costumes are bright and clever and add to the illusion of being set in Paris, where the story is set. There are touches of French culture that add to its sense of magical realism.

The story starts out with Amelie as a young girl. She was born with a heart problem and raised strictly by her conservative parents. She is just a young girl when her mother is killed, strangely by a man who falls from the Eiffel Tower on top of her. Before long, we see her as a lonely young woman who longs for more out of her life and lives in her imagination. She works in a bistro in Paris, alongside other lonelies, only they make for lovely daily interactions, and she is friends with an older man who is a painter. She spends her days thinking about Princess Diana, listening to others make plans, and dreaming about all the good things she can do to change the world. One day she finally meets Nino, played by Adam Chanler-Berat. Also lonely, he collects photo portraits and after a bit of back and forth, they finally come together and fall in love.

While I enjoyed the show and it certainly made me smile, I can’t say it was the most memorable of shows I’ve seen recently. I can always find something positive to take out of a show. In this case, it was the cast, particularly the supporting characters, and Amelie’s generous spirit that is projected in the play. In one scene, Amelie helps her father, a widow, take a garden gnome from a shrine in honor of her mother. There are other moments like that in the play that drew me in. I also liked its faithfulness to the film. Soo is as quirky as Taotou, and the show walks to a similar, fast-paced beat.

My teenage daughter agreed with me on all accounts. I watched other kids a few rows up and saw big smiles pass over their faces for the majority of the show. “Amelie” is a feel good play. It might not work entirely, and I didn’t dance out of the theater, but no one can doubt the fact that it tries very hard.

I salute the creators for bringing this show to Broadway. It was a good show for a dreamer like me, hence my attraction to the song “Times are hard for dreamers” –

They say times are hard for dreamers
But they are not hard for me
I’ve saved up everything I know
To take that step beyond the lawn
Keep walking till I see the station
And then see it go

Get tickets to Amelie here.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary tickets to facilitate this review. However, all opinions are my own, as always.

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