If you ask anyone who saw the French film this musical is based on, a few words come up constantly. ‘Sweet’, ‘pretty’, and ‘adorable ‘ are the main adjectives that get attached to that 2001 film, directed by the always interesting Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Beyond that, everyone’s memory of Amélie (also known as Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain falls into two very distinct categories; the ones who love it and watch it again and again, and those that can’t really tell you anything beyond those three adjectives. I saw the Broadway musical adaptation with someone who adores the film (and the score of the film) wholeheartedly. I am of the later. I remember seeing it but not much else except for its brightly colored palette and appealing leading lady, Audrey Tautou. If you ask me about this musical, with book by Craig Lucas, music by Daniel Messe, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messe, I will probably say the exact same thing, in addition to those three adjectives. I might also say, ‘nice’, which, and I’m quoting a prominent Broadway producer, is “Not a pull quote for a poster”.
It is very beautifully crafted, this quick 100 minute musical. The set is magically off-centered and colorfully joyous, as are the costumes, both designed by David Zinn (Fun Home). It reminds me visually of a cheery and brighter Mathilde. It’s inventive and possesses a child-like whimsy that is very pleasing to the eye. After the first pretty song, “Times Are Hard For Dreamers“, we happily join the young Amélie as she starts out as a curious but neglected child, (a wonderfully spunky, Savvy Crawford), barely touched by her psychologically challenged father, (Manoel Felciano) and distant mother, portrayed with a kooky charm by Alison Cimmet (She Loves Me) who (awkwardly) dies when Amélie is still quite young, killed by a falling suicidal man. She grows into a the young woman, that pops out of her childhood home front door to greet her younger self with suitcase in hand as she leaves her isolating father for Paris. From this very strange but touching beginning, the musical wears a big grin on its cute face, much like the leading lady who graces this story with a wonderfully beautiful performance and an infectious appeal. Phillipa Soo radiates the pretty charming Amélie from the moment she steps on stage, and although I thought she was lovely in Hamilton and the off-broadway production of Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 (click here for the Broadway production review), it is here, in the staging of this odd-ball creation, when I can fully understand her star power. Her gorgeously voiced Amélie is sweet and scared, an innocent product of neurotic parenting and a tragic maternal beginning, but brave enough to throw herself out into a whimsical depiction of contemporary Parisian life.