Broadway Review: 'Amélie'

Tara Kennedy 

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle

“Amélie” is my favorite film of all time. A self-proclaimed, lifelong cynic, this film melted my cold, cold heart, and appealed to me in a way that few uplifting pieces of art can: it’s whimsical and heartwarming without being sappy. Naturally, I was excited about the prospects of a musical, especially one starring Philippa Soo, who I knew was a star when I saw her as Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” in that giant tent in the Meatpacking District.

I am happy to report that the show is pure Broadway sunshine. I was pleased to see that the musical portrayed the exuberance of the film, a complete necessity in my opinion. Ms. Soo captures the quirky dreamer-heroine perfectly. Her beautiful, soaring voice is almost too good for a musical like this, but she proves her comedy chops with “Sister’s Pickle,” as she’s dressed as a nun in a porn shop in Pigalle (trust me, it makes sense).  I also enjoyed Adam Chandler-Berat’s charming Nino, whose lovely tenor voice was a treat. And the chemistry between the two was undeniable; the audience held its breath the moment the two were about to kiss.   

But the real stars for me were the ensemble. They were versatile, talented, and did everything: not only were they multiple characters, but also the visual and sound effects, puppets, props, and set pieces. Never have I seen such diversity in an ensemble before; this is truly a group that looks like city denizens rather than a highly-polished kick line, and thank God for that. They deserve all the standing ovations they get. Let’s hope that this leads to more diversity in shapes and sizes in casting a Broadway musical.

My favorite number was “When the Booth Goes Bright,” musically and staging-wise.  Nino sings about the lives of the people in his collection of photo booth pictures as the ensemble – in a grid pattern in chairs on the stage – reenact being photographed in a photo booth. The gliding figures on chairs moving in slow motion in the dim lighting with sudden flashes of light was visually stunning.

Scenic and costume design by David Zinn was colorful and gorgeous; it successfully captured the spirit of Montmartre, the neighborhood in Paris, where artists like Picasso, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec lived and painted. Adding onto that was Sam Pinkleton’s inventive and lively musical staging; for me, it made Amélie’s magical world come alive. Projection design by Peter Nigrini also added to the modern fairytale; clever animations like chalkboard drawings created visuals that added to the whimsy of the overall show.

Probably the weakest part for me was the music by Broadway newcomer, Daniel Messé, with lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen. Not that I want to get all Sondheim on this, but “there isn’t a tune you can hum” comes to mind. Not that the music isn’t pleasantly melodic, and lyrically clever at times, it’s just not particularly memorable, which is a shame. Here you have a world-class company with beautiful, delightful staging that deserves more than mediocre music; maybe they should’ve borrowed Alan Menken from across the street. 

I also wonder about the inclusion of songs that were not plot driven – such as “Tour de France” (an ode to “Candle in the Wind” and Elton John, sort of?)  – which stopped the progression of the show and had me turning to my friend saying, “Whyyyy is this here?” I understand the inclusion of “A Better Haircut” to highlight the talented singers they have in the ensemble, but while it accentuated the singing talents of Harriet D. Foy, Maria-Christina Oliveras (yay BBAJ alum!), and Alyse Alan Louis, it makes us wonder why Nino didn’t just walk out of the café and catch Amélie later.

But don’t let my opinion of the music stop you from seeing this show, especially if you are a fan of the film and Philippa Soo. It is a heartwarming 100 minutes that will lift your spirits.