Posted: 26 Jun 2019 07:31 AM PDT
King’s Theatre: Tue 25 – Sat 29 June 2019
Peppered with emotion and fizzing with energy, the touring production of Amélie the Musical – at the King’s to Saturday – is the sort of treat which gives musical theatre a good name.
Adapted with care from Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001, award-winning French movie, Craig Lucas’s book captures the original’s whimsy and sense of open-minded love of life. Daniel Messe’s music adds an onrushing sense of momentum that only fizzles out at its rather over-extended ending where the point is made long before it has finished being said
This, then, is the Paris-set story of Amélie, the socially awkward child of a neurotic and a germ-phobic doctor, who has an epiphany while watching Lady Di’s funeral – that she will bring good into the world with small but significant (and often convoluted) acts of kindness.
Amélie is played by Audrey Brisson with a real sense of the quirkiness which made Audrey Tautou’s performance in the movie so endearing. She is a character who you want to wrap in your arms to protect, yet who is exasperating in her inability to commit.
Danny Mac has a feeling of the odd-ball to him as Nino, who carries around with him an album of rejected photographs he has picked up from where they have been discarded outside photo-booths. It’s Amelie’s attempts to return this album when it becomes lost that brings them together.
With the remainder of the 16-strong company all singing and playing instruments – including double bass and two cellos – the stage should be cramped. But Madeleine Girling’s clever, multi-layered set design ensured that it only feels that way when it descends into the confines of the Metro.
packed with delights
The set is packed with delights. Amélie’s room is hidden behind a clock-face above the main stage – to which she ascends, Mary Poppins-like, holding on to a shade of a lamp. And two upright pianos transform into, amongst other things, the tobacco stall in the cafe where Amelie works and the dildo display of the sex-shop where Nino works.
The stage is more darkened that lit by Elliot Grace, who pulls off some neat visual illusions to help the narrative while giving the whole thing a decidedly crepuscular feel. This is a twilight Paris of complex possibilities, not a bright and garish sun-washed stage of certainty.
Lucas’s book makes much of coincidence, joining seeming unrelated events together via the random passage of a fly. But like Chekhov’s gun, no coincidence is mentioned by chance – if it’s there in the first scene, you can be sure it will be used by the finale.
Daniel Messe’s music doesn’t have huge memorable tunes, think Five Years but given a Gallic shrug, but it drives the action of this largely sung-though show and the words are intrinsic. Which is why the not always clear delivery of Messe and Nathan Tysen’s lyrics is particularly annoying. Such is easy to forgive, however, given the clarity of most of it.
Director Michael Fentiman whirls his ensemble around the set with tight control. Scenes changing smoothly, every surface having a use and, while many of the company are on stage much of the time, the focus always drawn to where the action is happening.
The ensemble have their own fun with a series of initially cartoonish characters who they have the opportunity to enlarge upon. Not to mention using puppets for everything from the young Amelie to Fluffy, her goldfish and a trio particularly vicious, hallucinated figs.
Individually, Kate Robson-Stuart as a sharp Suzanne, the ex-aerialist who runs the cafe, Johnson Willis an avuncular Dufayel, Amelie’s painter neighbour, Jez Unwin as her father Raphael, who goes from germ-fearer to gnome-nurturer and Caolan McCarthy as Elton John, are all particularly memorable.
But in truth, the company are equally strong in what is a properly ensemble piece. They might have individual characters to create, but they can turn as one to become a chorus of voices and characters who question or mirror the main protagonists.
A slick, clever and hugely appealing production which reveals the heart of the original in a way which the initial Broadway production did not, if the clips of the latter are to be believed.
Running time: Two hours and ten minutes (including one interval)
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