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.

 

Sunset Boulevard

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan (4)

After firstly workshopping the role of Norma Desmond an incredible 26 years ago Ria Jones finally gets to shine as the leading lady in Leicester Curve’s revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s magnificent Sunset Boulevard which opened at Manchester’s Palace theatre last night.

Forgotten screen siren Norma Desmond (Ria Jones) lives a lonely and reclusive life in her mansion up on Sunset Boulevard, the silent movie star is surplus to requirement now that talkies have taken over tinsel town, yet she refuses to believe there could ever be a bigger star than her. She desperately needs a comeback, an opportunity to make people realise she is still a big deal, cue the arrival of penniless screenwriter Joe Gillis (Danny Mac) who stumbles into her fantasy world and becomes seduced by the luxurious lifestyle and the potential ‘masterpiece’ she feels will make them both their fortune and catapult her back where she belongs.

Ria Jones gives the performance of her life as Norma Desmond in this twisted and tragic love story. Her portrayal of the aging actress, clawing onto her past relevance is sublime. One minute she is carefree, laughing, smiling and full of joy the next full of rage as her insecurities suffocate and threaten to consume her. Fragile yet fearless, talented but tragically cast aside by Hollywood, Jones puts every ounce of her being into her performance and is an absolute triumph.

Danny Mac is equally superb as writer Joe Gillis, his desperation to succeed sucks him into Desmond’s fantasy, vocally this is a hugely demanding role and Mac is more than up to the job as he guides us through this tragic tale, rarely off stage he delivers and then some, he is perfectly cast and entirely believable, his voice smooth and strong.

SWJOFZ~4

High praise must also go Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer and Adam Pearce as Max Von Meyerling, both are superb in their supporting roles making each hugely memorable.

With deliciously dramatic staging, involving Norma Desmond arriving into most scenes via moving platforms or via theatrically winding staircases Sunset Boulevard really is a show of great style and serious quality. Ben Cracknell’s atmospheric lighting is outstanding, illuminating both Colin Richmond’s set and costumes to perfection, Norma Desmond’s costumes especially are delightfully opulent, velvets and silks are lavishly jewelled and feathered, further rubber-stamping the undeniable diva we see on stage.

Accompanied by a sublime sixteen piece orchestra Sunset Boulevard is not to be missed, dramatic, dark and utterly compelling.

★★★★★

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 4th November book tickets here; http://m.atgtickets.com/shows/sunset-boulevard/palace-theatre-manchester/

Interview – Sunset Boulevard’s Ria Jones

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan SMALL

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning Sunset Boulevard opens at the Palace theatre next week starring Ria Jones, who received standing ovations every night when performing the role of Norma Desmond at the London Coliseum, joining Ria is Strictly Come Dancing‘s Danny Mac as Joe Gillis, in this compelling story of romance and obsession.

We chatted to Ria Jones ahead of the show opening at Manchester’s Palace theatre on Monday and discovered more about the show that critics have described as a masterpiece.

Opening Night (ON):You have a real history with Sunset Boulevard, where did your involvement first begin?

Ria: Well I first workshopped Sunset Boulevard 26 years ago at Andrew Lloyd Webbers home in Sydmonton where he workshops all his new shows, it’s in a beautiful converted chapel, so whenever he writes a new show he invites family , friends, agents, producers to come and see the piece and then discuss it afterwards, I was 24 at the time so I know I was way too young then to play Norma Desmond so I joked with him and said ‘Maybe one day I’ll do the revival’ then fast forward all those years and there I was stepping in for Glenn Close, very surreal.

ON: What is it about Norma Desmond that you love so much?

Ria: She’s such an iconic character, she’s such a dramatic, strong, powerful woman and yet underneath like us all so fragile and broken, and lonely and insecure. She’s a real mixture, she can flip on a coin, one minute she’s saying ‘Don’t mess with me’ and the next minute she’s absolutely in bits, like so many of us she just can’t deal with aging, she can’t deal with the fact that her career has fallen because talkies came in and she was a silent movie star, and not just a star, a big star, the biggest star of all as they say in the piece and she feels forgotten, she lives as a recluse in this huge mansion on Sunset Boulevard, with her butler Max where she lives a life of delusion, she happens upon a writer called Joe Gillis and their lives collide and they need each other for certain things in their lives that they’re lacking and they use each other, it becomes a very dark love story that results in a very dramatic ending, I think the most dramatic ending of any musical out there.

SWJOFZ~4

ON: How important is it that there are strong lead roles for older ladies to play?

Ria: Very important, it’s so very current too particularly in Hollywood older stars such as Meryl Streep are saying there’s a real lack of parts for them out there and it’s the same in musical theatre too I think you have Mamma Rose in Gypsy, you have Dolly, Mame and Norma Desmond, and I think that’s about it. Also particularly with Norma is a tough role, my voice is different now to how it was when I was in my 20’s or 30’s it changes and I think this role really is a big sing, I’m doing 8 shows a week so I really have to ensure I look after my voice, I’m twice the age of most of the Company and I get envious sometimes when they’re going out after shows, I think ‘oh I wish I could do that’ but I know I can’t anymore, the role is so demanding that I really have to ensure I take care of myself. But I am really, really enjoying it and the challenge of her, I just think she’s such a great role to get your teeth into as an actresses well as a singer and to have more roles out there like this would be brilliant. There’s shouting, there’s some real emotion, I cry, I’m running up and down stairs, each performance is a real workout, I absolutely love it, the end of the show is just so dramatic and by that point I am so emotionally drained it’s a great way to be at the end of the show because it lends itself then to those final scenes.

ON: How does this production differ from recent London Coliseum version?

Ria: The one at the Coliseum was a staged concert, there were costumes and the whole score and dialogue was played out whereas this is a full production with set changes, costumes changes, full orchestra in the pit where the orchestra were on the stage at the Coliseum, this is a proper full production and there’s not been a full production on tour since 2002, there was an actor musicians one but it didn’t tour so this is the first full scale production in many years. Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t tour it often, he doesn’t give the right often, it’s a rare outing. We’ve got a 16 piece orchestra which is by far the largest touring orchestra in the UK so to hear the score alone just played by that incredible orchestra I think is worth the ticket price, it’s absolutely stunning.

ON: Are you looking forward to returning to Manchester?

Ria: I cannot wait, I did Evita there when I was 19 at the Opera House, I also did Les Mis in 1992 at the Palace, when I played Fantine, that was the first time Les Mis had been performed outside of London, I had such a great time there. I’ve been back several times since then with High Society, Anything Goes, Acorn Antiques at the Lowry, directed by Victoria Wood playing Mrs Overall, what a difference to Norma Desmond! Manchester is very dear to me because some of my best roles and best times have been in Manchester, it’s such a great, great city and we’re there for 2 weeks which I’m thrilled about, I’m in my hometown at the moment which is wonderful and I’m having such a great week so I’m really happy our next stop is Manchester because after such a high this week I thought I need to go somewhere wonderful to continue this high so Manchester will be brilliant.

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan (4)

ON: Do you have any superstitions or rituals you have to do before taking to the stage?

Rita: I always say a little prayer to myself and to my Nanna who I know watches over me, I’m not terribly religious but I do have a moment between me and her before every show. I’m not a fan of whistling in the dressing room, if I see one magpie I’ll always salute it and I’d never walk under a ladder, and always try to enjoy it as much as possible, when I get nervous I tell myself ‘come on this isn’t life or death’ I do actually get nervous before every show because I want it to be good, people have paid a lot of money so I always want to deliver.

ON: Finally we have to ask is Danny Mac as gorgeous in the flesh?

Ria: He’s an absolute dream, he’s a lovely person to work opposite, lots of people didn’t realise he could sing and I can tell you he’s absolutely brilliant, come and see it and you will be blown away, he’s so fantastic.

Sunset Boulevard opens at the Palace theatre on Monday 23rd October and runs for two weeks until Saturday 4th November, tickets available here; www.atgtickets.com/shows/sunset-boulevard/palace-theatre-manchester/

 

 

Sleepless

sleepless

Fresh from last weekend’s Strictly Come Dancing final, it’s been announced that Danny Mac and his real-life leading lady Carley Stenson, will be playing the roles of Sam and Annie in the world premiere of Sleepless, the new romantic musical based on the Tristar Pictures Inc. film Sleepless in Seattle.

With a book by Michael Burdett, music by Robert Scott and lyrics by Brendan Cull, the production will run at The Lowry, Salford from 25th to 29th April prior to a West End run.

Like the much loved movie, Sleepless tells the heart-warming tale of Sam, who moves to Seattle with his eight year-old son, Jonah, following the tragic death of his wife. When Jonah phones a radio show, Sam is forced to talk about his broken heart and sleepless nights live on air, and he suddenly finds himself one of the most sought after single men in America and a great news story for feisty journalist Annie on the opposite side of the country.  A fresh and lively book alongside a brand-new musical score bring this most timeless of romantic comedies to life on stage.

Danny Mac is best known for playing the role of Mark ‘Dodger’ Savage in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks. He was given his first professional role as Gavroche in Cameron Mackintosh’s touring production of Les Misérables, a role he reprised in London’s West End at the Palace Theatre in 1999.  After graduating from drama school, he went straight into Wicked at the Apollo Victoria.  Most recently, he played Warner in Legally Blonde at the Leicester Curve.

Carley Stenson played the role of Steph Cunningham in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks for 10 years. West End credits include starring as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical and Lady of the Lake in Spamalot.  Carley also starred as Christine Colgate in the national tour of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Danny Mac and Carley Stenson will be joined by Jennie Dale as Becky and Cory English as Rob. Jennie’s most recent theatre credits include Maggie Jones in 42nd Street (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris) Deb in Elf (Dominion Theatre), Dora in Singin’ in the Rain (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris) and Mae in The Pajama Game (Shaftesbury Theatre).  On television, Jennie has appeared in The Tracey Ullman Show and Victoria Wood’s Mid-life Christmas and What LarksCory English can currently be seen in She Loves Me at the Menier Chocolate Factory.  His many previous musical theatre credits include Max Bialystock in the UK Tour of The Producers, Igor in Young Frankenstein and Max Bialystock in The Producers, both for Susan Stroman on Broadway, and Benny Southstreet in Michael Grandage’s West End production of Guys & Dolls.

Sleepless

The Lowry, Salford

Tue 25– Sat 29 April 2017

7.30pm (Wed & Sat 2pm)

Tickets: £24 – £53.50 (Including booking fees)

Box office: 0843 208 6000

http://www.thelowry.com/event/sleepless