Amélie

Reviewed by Alex Broadley

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Amélie The Musical has the unenviable task of bringing the award winning French film Amélie (or, to give it its full name, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) to life. And it does this with gusto, whimsy and fabulous savoir faire.

Amélie tells the story of young Amélie Poulain (played fabulously by Audrey Brisson). Brought up by neurotic and unusual parents, Amélie’s father (Jez Unwin) misdiagnoses a heart condition and her mother (Rachel Dawson) decides Amélie is too delicate to be in contact with others. Isolated and lonely, Amélie’s only childhood friend is a goldfish….who we later say ‘au revoir’ to.  After the early death of her Mother, Amélie is brought up by her emotionally distant Father, who has attached all his emotions to a garden gnome.

As a young woman, Amélie escapes to bon Paris and although she makes acquaintances, she is still very much alone until she finds a long forgotten box which will send her life in a different direction entirely. Amélie decides to help others in their quests for happiness, but can her own loneliness and unwillingness to interact with others be overcome?

The film is known for being full of whimsy and the musical delivers this and more. Amélie has been adapted for the stage by a fantastic team of writers and directors. With a book by Craig Lucas, the musical sticks closely to the film and in many ways is less sugary-sweet and more fun than the original screen-play.

One of the special things about the show for me, was the hard-working actor musicians. Many of the talented cast play multiple parts seamlessly. The instruments are weaved into the narrative and the music (composed by Daniel Messé) and lyrics (Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé) have a magical folky feel. This all works well with the playful feel of the production. There are no particular stand-out songs, however there doesn’t need to be; Amélie’s story is episodic and shifts from story to story within it. The gentle and harmonic melodies weave their way into the narrative in a way which is genuinely wonderful. Although there are no traditional dance numbers, the sense of movement as Amélie moves through busy platforms, streets and trains is done brilliantly.

Audrey Brisson is fantastic as Amélie. She plays her perfectly, with just the right amount of naïve vulnerability and hope. Audrey has a fantastic voice and is a genuine tour de force of the show. The character of Amélie is complicated, as we all are, and Audrey shows the different sides of Amélie perfectly. Danny Mac plays Amélie’s love interest Nino and his performance showcases a warm voice and the final scene is genuinely touching.

Madeleine Girling’s set design deserves to be mentioned. A lampshade serves as a magical way of transporting Amélie to her flat and who knew that a photo-booth could be a confessional, a shop front and a market stall? The set transports us to what is undeniably Paris. The art nouveau style detail is beautiful and reminiscent of Parisian cafés, walks along the Seine and croissants. The hard-working cast almost blend into the set, waiting around the corners.

Special mention should also be given to the puppets (designed by Dik Downey). Adding to the sense of fun in the production, the appearance of a giant gnome and goldfish are definitely memorable moments! The appearance of Elton John (Caolan McCarthy) leaves the audience in stitches.

The show was packed but the audience was completely silent during the final scene; testament to how far we were drawn into our heroine’s plight. We desperately want our lonely Amélie to accept the love which is offered.

Amélie the Musical is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 10th August tickets available here.

 

 

 

Interview |Amélie the Musical |Michael Fentiman

Described by Whats On Stage as a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ‘perfect production’ Amélie the Musical arrives in Manchester next week after wowing audiences across the country as part of its first ever UK tour. Ahead of the shows West End transfer we caught up with Director Michael Fentiman to hear a little more about this magical musical.

How closely does Amélie The Musical resemble the film?

The film refused to behave like any film we may have recognised at the time. The approach to narrative is episodic. Favouring small vignettes, tiny films within a film, that group together to create a collage, a poetic mural that conjures a sense of loneliness and isolation in the bustling metropolis of 90s Paris.

The central character is largely passive. The first rule of script writing is usually that your protagonist is actively pursuing a change in the world they inhabit, Amélie is largely trying to avoid it.

It favours philosophical thought and ambiguity over conflict, sentimentality or explicit didact (usually the staple diet of your blockbuster filmmaker).

Somehow, by ignoring the rules of what constitutes enjoyable art, Amélie managed to appear in the late 90’s as a hugely enjoyable antidote to all the art that had started to believe there was a formula.

So if the film refused to behave like a film, in some respects Amélie must resist the pressure to behave like a traditional musical. It can’t be loud and brash, that would crush its fragile frame.  It can’t always yearn to please, that would fight the spirit of its aloof, Parisian routes. It can’t resort to slapstick laughs or lean on personal tragedy to illicit tears in ballads. It can’t open act 2 with a kick line or close act 1 with a burst of pyro or a tense cliff-hanger.

But what it can do is invite an audience into a simple, gentle, moving exploration of human loneliness and isolation and the earnest attempts to avoid it.

What were the main challenges in adapting it?

The challenge when adapting and staging a piece like Amélie is that the iconography of the film imprints itself so vividly in the mind of its audience, any stage production is in some respects competing with memories of the film. The music of Yann Tiersen, the cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s left of centre script and dreamlike direction. All smashing together to create something unique, oddly moving and vivid that lingers in the memory. Yet in order for it to satisfy in the theatre we must find a freedom to occupy its own space in our imaginations. It’s a tricky balance to get right.

Can you tell me a little about the music? Do what degree, if any, was it influenced by Yann Tiersen’s original soundtrack?

The music is hugely influence by the tone and feel of Yann Tiersen’s music. How could it not be? We have an amazing company of actor musicians, so we have incorporated into the score multiple violins, cello’s, accordions, pianos and flutes to create a very unique and moving sound.

How did you go about finding your Amélie? The similarities between Audrey Brisson and Audrey Tautou are striking, but we imagine there are some striking differences too…

As soon as I was asked to direct this production, Audrey was the first name I mentioned for the part. We have worked together before. Last time she played a hedgehog (obvious casting for Amélie!)  in a production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe I directed a few years back. She is an extraordinary performer. A rare thing. A classical trained singer, who once toured the world with Cirque de Soleil, a superbly charismatic comic and clown and a sensitive and intelligent actress. She is also a fluent French speaker!

How have you created Paris on stage?

It was impossible to fully realise Paris onstage. So we have tried to capture a smell of Paris so that the audience can fill in the gaps. Are location for the set is one of the iconic Metro stations featured in the film, but from there we are whisked all around the city with simple props, beautiful music, brilliant acting… and a bit of imagination.

What is the enduring appeal of this story?

At a time where we are increasingly feeling at a distance from each other, and to some degree, from the world we inhabit, Amélie is a Musical that seeks connections. Kind connections, that close down distances and make us feel like we are able to look up, smile and reach out to the strange and the stranger.

Amélie is on at the Manchester Opera House from Tuesday 6th until Saturday 10th August tickets available here.