Aired on KSDS-FM on 12/30/16
RUN DATES: 12/4/16 – 1/15/17
VENUE: Ahmanson Theatre, L.A.
How do you take a gorgeously shot, thoroughly cinematic French film and adapt it for the stage? Making the delightfully offbeat 2001 movie, “Amélie,” into a musical is actually less of a challenge than capturing the stunning look and sensibility of the source.
The new musical, “Amélie,” premiered in 2015 at Berkeley Rep, and after some tweaking and cast changes, it’s now running at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A., before opening on Broadway in March.
I was thrilled to see that a magnificent creative team completely nailed the loopy essence of the story of the shy, sheltered, reclusive young woman, fearful of connection, who finds fulfillment, and even love, by venturing out of her daydreams to engage with the world.
At first, Amélie does anonymous good deeds to make other people’s lives better. Then she meets Nino, who lives as much in his imagination as she does. He seems to understand her completely, and is willing to play the giddy cat-and-mouse games that serve as loopy foreplay to their first face-to-face meeting.
Acclaimed playwright Craig Lucas has done an excellent job condensing and conflating the eccentric characters to present a fleet, intermissionless one-act story.
Director Pam MacKinnon, choreographer Sam Pinkleton and their marvelous designers create a charmingly askew late 20th-century Paris. All the whimsy of the Jean-Pierre Jeunet original is there, and the malleable cast of 15 conveys everything from a goldfish to a lawn gnome, including an Elton John segment that could easily be jettisoned. The score, by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé, has a sweet sameness to it.
But the primary problem is at the center. Neither of the main characters is played by a performer charismatic enough to carry the piece. Adam Chanler-Berat is lithe and cute. Philippa Soo, who charmed as Alexander’s devoted wife, Eliza, in “Hamilton,” has the requisite gamine quality and a lovely voice. But this probably won’t be her star-making turn, like it was onscreen for the amazing Audrey Tautou, she of the enormous, expressive eyes.
Still, the musical’s quirky characters and inexorably amorous ending will send you home just a little more hopeful and heartful than when you arrived.
©2016 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews