Amélie the Musical – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Book: Craig Lucas

Music: Daniel Messé

Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Daniel Messé

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Amélie the Musical is a sweet and quirky story of a French girl. Brought up by a distant father and neurotic mother, she is isolated from the world and retreats into her own imagination. When her mother is killed in a freak accident, Amélie leaves home to work in a Montmartre café. Here she meets a host of eccentric folk and, after a chance discovery, sets out to do good deeds. Her first, reuniting a box of childhood memories with its grown-up owner, is so successful she continues, spreading happiness around her. But she remains solitary and alone, living within her own private world.

During her quest, she comes across the equally unconventional Nino. It’s obvious from the off that there is a powerful attraction between them, but fate seems to be keeping them apart. Can Amélie overcome her nature and upbringing and let Nino into her life? Can she make a happy ending for herself?

Amélie the Musical is based on the award-winning romantic comedy film released in 2001. The film was unashamedly a French film, full of whimsy and childlike wonder and the producers of this production have tried hard to retain that. As one enters the theatre, one is immediately struck by the Frenchness of the set in its colour and symmetrical layout reminding one of a formal French garden – indeed, symmetry plays a big part in the production with intricate dance numbers maintaining that symmetrical feel, while at any one time pairs of characters are living complementary lives. In the programme notes, Audrey Brisson, who plays Amélie, remarks that this production aims to bring more Frenchness to the show than the Broadway production, in particular with the musical arrangements – and the music and songs certainly have that feel.

Visually and aurally, Amélie the Musical is a feast. The music is all played on stage by a cast of multi-instrumentalists. For much of the time, most, if not all, of the cast is present observing the action and playing music. The dance numbers are intricately choreographed, often heavily stylised. This sets a fine contrast with the times that Amélie withdraws to her small apartment and her own imagination, places that no-one else, it seems, can enter.

While the music fills the auditorium, the lyrics, from Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé are occasionally lost. This is unfortunate because there is clever wordplay that does some of the heavy-lifting in terms of the story’s exposition meaning that one is sometimes struggling to make out just what is happening and some of the nuances of character are lost within the swirling whole.

Brisson brings out Amélie’s essentially childlike nature effectively. Her wide-eyed observation of the world is well expressed and her singing strong. One can see her perplexity as she observes the world at a distance through her telescope as well as her determination to make it better. Her essential vulnerability is also clear as she sometimes looks on in bewilderment and needs to withdraw. Then she finds some eureka moments when she talks with her neighbour, Dufayel (Johnson Willis) who has his own obsession. Through their conversations, each eventually finds a way forward.

Danny Mac is an understated Nino. Driven by his own bizarre quest he is nevertheless smitten with Amélie, though fated, it seems, never to meet her. The scene when Amélie finally lets her guard down with him provides a rare and rather lovely moment of stillness and anticipation.

Jez Unwin brings us her distant father who has maybe the most difficult journey to make to come to terms with the tragic loss of his wife. Unwin also plays the owner of the memory tin, another man who is inspired to change his life after Amélie’s intervention. We see both characters emerge stronger and, one feels, happier as a result.

Amélie the Musical is certainly worth seeing: it shows us the human spirit overcoming adversity and ultimately triumphing. However, some of the intricacies of the plot are lost on the altar of spectacle, spectacle that is, nevertheless breathtaking in itself. So not without flaws, but a sweetly charming escapist night’s entertainment

Runs Until 27 July 2019 and on tour | Image: Pamela Raith

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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