Amélie – Charming Despite Inevitable Comparison

While something innately French has been lost in translation, Amélie is a winsome musical (not cloying) with a solid cast. Condensation of secret do-gooding played out in the film is realized with finesse. Staging is appealingly fanciful. Phillipa Soo’s waif is less wild and coltish than Audrey Tatou, but credibly epitomizes the character’s fear, naiveté, and big heart. This is an eminently tender production.

Young, highly imaginative Amélie (the excellent, unstagey Savvy Crawford) Is raised by well meaning but cold parents (very fine Manoel Felciano and Alison Cimmit) who isolate the affectionate girl. Even her goldfish (playfully manifest in human form) is banished into what one presumes to be the Seine (fringed, metallic streamers undulating below childish, chalk-drawn clouds).

Amélie, A New Musical WALTER KERR THEATRE

Phillipa Soo, Savvy Crawford

The girl is present when her mother gets squashed by a suicide at Notre Dame and, watching her father retreat to obsessing about a garden gnome on his wife’s grave – “Your mother hated it, so I think of her every time I see it” –  leaves home for Paris. Solitary and untrusting but clearly sweet, she’s treated with affection by those in the Montmartre café owned by ex-trapeze artist, Suzanne (Harriet D. Foy).

Also employed are waitress Gina (Maria-Christina Oliveras), mourning a husband that betrayed her, then died and hypochondriac tobacconist, Georgette (Alyse Alan Louis) whose costume is inspired. David Zinn dresses characters and concocts reveries –Sets- as if a Caldecott-Medal-winning illustrator. In collaboration with Projection Designer Peter Nigrini, Lighting Designers Jane Cox and Mark Barton, and Puppet Designer Amanda Villalobos (love the fish!) aesthetics here are worth the price of admission.

Amélie, A New Musical WALTER KERR THEATRE

Tony Sheldon, Phillipa Soo

Inspired by Princess Diana, Amélie decides to ‘fix’ people’s lives while remaining anonymous. She secretly manages to inspire the café’s resident poet (Randy Blair), “release” her father, find partners for Suzanne, Georgette, and café denizen Joseph (Paul Whitty), and return the childhood treasure of her apartment’s former tenant, all without getting involved.

With this, elderly neighbor, Dufayel (a warmly appealing Tony Sheldon in another pitch perfect costume) disagrees. “The glass man” has a rare disease that makes the world physically dangerous. He spends his days copying and recopying yet never finishing Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. (There’s a lesson here.) Amélie has her life before her, he protests paternally.

Amélie, A New Musical WALTER KERR THEATRE

Alyse Alan Louis, Phillipa Soo, Harriet D. Foy, Maria-Christina Oliveras

Detachment ends when the heroine grows fascinated with Nino (the entirely credible Adam Chanler-Berat), a loner, porn shop employee who collects torn images from the floor outside photo booths. There’s as much mystery about his preoccupations as her own. Who is he? Why does he do this? What about the fractured people he pastes into an album, especially the man whose image appears again and again? Amélie teases Nino with clues inadvertently drawing outside her safety zone. Herein lays the heart of the tale.

There’s also a sexy Stewardess, an outrageously clad Elton John, and, oh, the Garden Gnome comes alive.

Amélie, A New Musical WALTER KERR THEATRE

The Company, Phillipa Soo on the bridge

Phillipa Soo, whom I also saw in Hamilton, has a splendid voice and comfortable presence. We believe her everygirlness. Delight plays across the actress’s face when a plan succeeds, the fear of a hunted rabbit appears when Nino sets curious, amorous chase.

Songs are undistinguished but play well at the time. Occasionally one sways. Often one smiles. You won’t go home singing them, but they, and the connecting book, work.

Musical Staging/Choreography by Sam Pinkleton is charming and fluid.

Director Pam McKinnon utilizes the whole of a large set with creativity and joie de vivre. Characters maintain a level across the board so no individual catches one’s eye more than another. Even in their quirkiness, all feel natural. Fantasies are fun. Phone booths may not have been so well employed since Superman.

An appreciative call-out is due to Casting by Jim Carnahan, C.S.A. and Stephen Kopel C.S.A. who rounded up not just a talented bunch of actors who can sing and move, but a combination of faces and bodies that decorate and enhance the story.

Photos by Joan Marcus

Opening: Adam Chanler-Berat and Phillipa Soo

Amélie
Book – Craig Lucas
Music – Daniel Messé; Lyrics – Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé
Based on the film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Music Director – Kimberly Grigsby
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48 Street

About Alix Cohen (1169 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.