The Broadway season has many openings left before the late-April cutoff, but it seems safe to say that none is likely to be weirder than "Amelie." Given the bushels of imagination in director Pam MacKinnon's staging and the radiant presence of Phillipa Soo in the title role, I wish that were more of a compliment. For much of the musical based on the enduring 2001 French film, the fantasy appears to be aimed at the not-exactly-underserved audience of bright 11-year-old girls. But that is before the jolly cautionary rock song about STDs and before we find out that Amelie's love interest is a salesman in a porn store.
AMELIE Broadway Reviews
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I had the luxury of seeing Amélie twice, and I admit to finding its charms more readily revealed on second viewing, The score, for one thing, is more sophisticated than a single hearing suggests, and perhaps more cunning: There are what struck me as Sondheim Sunday In The Park in-jokes when the score turns to the knowing painter (played with lovely humanity by Tony Sheldon). And there is delicacy in the love story of Amélie and the young man (Adam Chanler-Berat) with the curious hobby.
Tony-winning director Pam MacKinnon (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) has also landed something like a sure thing in her leading lady; at 26, Phillipa Soo has already originated two phenomenally successful roles: Eliza (a.k.a. the main Mrs.) in Hamilton, and the titular Russian ingénue in Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812. Like its cinematic namesake, her Amelie is introduced first as a little girl (played here by the engaging Savvy Crawford): Born to a frazzled neurotic of a mother (Alison Cimmet) and an emotionally distant physician father who mistakenly diagnoses her with a heart condition (it's only pounding with the excitement of her monthly checkup, which is as close as he comes to showing his daughter physical affection), she is a sad, isolated child, strictly home-schooled and left to fill the long empty hours with her fertile imagination.
It's a tenderly-drawn, small story, but it feels out of place amid the bombast and bigger effects that Broadway usually trades in. Pam MacKinnon's production is sweet and full of charm but it makes no lasting impression. The same is true of Daniel Messe and Nathan Tysen's score.
For a cunning little bauble of an entertainment, the 2001 French film "Amélie" inspired uncommonly extreme responses. People were usually head over heels about it ("It's so cute!") or violently allergic to it ("But it's so cute!"). The mild-mannered musical adaptation of this movie, which opened on Monday night at the Walter Kerr Theater, is unlikely to stir similar passions. Featuring a book by Craig Lucas and music by Daniel Messé, with the lush-voiced Philippa Soo in the title role, it is pleasant to look at, easy to listen to and oddly recessive. It neither offends nor enthralls. Say what you will about its cinematic prototype, directed with an auteur's flourish by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it had style to spare, not to mention the courage of its worldly but whimsical convictions. In other words, "Amélie" the movie was très, très Français. "Amélie" the musical seems to have no nationality, or sensibility, to call its own.
The Broadway musical adaptation at the Walter Kerr Theatre is simply pleasant - at least when it isn't plodding. As for the City of Light - virtually all signs of Frenchness are gone in director Pam MacKinnon's staging. Why even bother with an accent in the title?
Amélie, A New Musical review: this Broadway translation of the French hit film lacks the original's je ne sais quoi
"Times are hard for dreamers," sings Amélie Poulain, as she leaves behind her solitary childhood for Paris in the quirky, occasionally charming new Broadway tuner based on the 2001 French comedy. Times aren't so easy for those who dare to musicalize great movies, either, especially when they show excessive fidelity to the source. Despite plenty of talent onstage and off, Amélie, A New Musical is a series of playful moments that don't add up to a memorable musical.
Adaptation is an ancient and noble art, but some things simply work better on film. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's swoony-cartoony movie, with its saturated reds and greens, manic angles and surreal flourishes (lovelorn Amélie deliquesces in a literal rain of tears!) has an exuberance that makes the baroque whimsy go down like a fine bordeaux. But what's the theatrical equivalent of a perfectly framed close-up? A three-minute ballad from the heart? Not exactly. So book writer Craig Lucas and songwriters Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen are at pains to articulate a singable emotional center of the source while staying true to its careening, cinematic narrative. The two duties ultimately cancel each other out.
That truth surely explains why it's so painful to watch the very determined Soo, who is both an exceptionally capable actor and completely miscast here, trying to replicate what surely was a one-time discovery, inextricably linked to a very different, much more vulnerable actress. If you watch the film "Amelie," you'll see it was filled with risk-taking and suffused with a veritable explosion of ideas - aesthetic, formative, emotional, philosophical. There were many reasons why it should not have worked, but work it did. In that moment. In that form.
A dubious quote plastered outside the Walter Kerr Theatre declares, "It's impossible not to be charmed" by Amelie, A New Musical. While reviewers spend their working lives arguing that all critical opinion is by its very nature subjective, I'd call that fake news. Just as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's popular 2001 French film presented an elaborate fantasist's version of modern-day Paris, bursting with quaint eccentrics, this grating stage musical takes the slenderest of romances and drowns it in cartoonish quirks in place of genuine warmth or feeling. And while Phillipa Soo is a creditable stand-in for the movie's uber-gamine Audrey Tautou, as a musical comedy heroine, Amelie Poulain is a dud, a bundle of cutesy affectations in search of a human core.
At last, a Broadway musical that exposes the bad effects of home schooling. Based on the 2001 French film, "Amelie" opened Monday at the Walter Kerr Theatre, and its ultra-shy heroine is waifish to the point of being a vanilla wafer. Craig Lucas' confusing book never finds its focus, and offers quite a few beginnings until, finally, the waitress Amelie ("Hamilton" alum Phillipa Soo) watches TV to see the fatal car crash that took the life of Princess Diana.
There's nothing very much wrong with this musical. The book, by Craig Lucas (An American in Paris) is affectionate; the songs, with music by Daniel Messé and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, are inarguably pleasant. But it's tricky to build a show around a protagonist whose main trait is wistful passivity. In the course of the story, Amélie learns to intervene in the lives of others, but mostly sits out her own existence.
As the title character in the musical "Amélie," a lonely young woman spreading warmth and doing good deeds even as she remains cocooned in isolation, the wonderful Phillipa Soo radiates her own brand of soulful magic. With her bright, pure soprano, and a face so expressive it might almost be a glowing high-definition television screen, Soo almost single-handedly transforms this sugar-rich, gossamer adaptation of the popular French movie into an emotionally rewarding evening. The musical, at the Walter Kerr Theatre, retains all of the madcap diversions of the 2001 movie. Anyone allergic to whimsy will want to give the theater a wide berth - a few blocks at least - while "Amélie" is in residence. Aside from the protagonist, the characters are all card-carrying eccentrics, and we are treated to both a singing goldfish and a singing garden gnome, among other surrealities.
...Which brings us to Soo. No surprise to those who know her from Hamilton or the pre-Broadway versions of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1912, she's effortlessly lovely and a superior singer. But traits that have helped her bring Eliza and Natasha to life - simplicity, transparency - can't do much for Amélie, who remains, like the girl in her neighbor's forever-unfinished Renoir, an outline of a figure at the heart of the story. All of Soo's skill, and all the craft of the authors, have produced this final paradox: The more Amélie is revealed, the less we see. Like its title character, Amélie is a show that has very nearly willed itself into obscurity.
Soo, looking stunning, gives a winning, seemingly effortless performance, and there are nice supporting turns from Adam Chanler-Berat as Amélie's sensitive crush and Tony Sheldon as her elderly neighbor. As directed by Pam MacKinnon (who is better known for dramas), the production attempts to capture the film's distinctive color palette and freewheeling qualities on its own relatively simple terms. With narration by the actors and makeshift costuming, you get the sense the cast is telling a fairy tale through improvisation. You appreciate their hard work, but it doesn't really come together. The film benefitted from incredible art direction and zooming cinematography that is lost here. The show may have been more effective in an intimate venue that could immerse the audience in this cozy and offbeat world.
The show is based on the 2001 French film "Amelie," one of those aggressively whimsical fantasies that you either find adorable or insufferable. (Count me in the latter camp.) It proves to be more challenging source material than you might imagine. In trying to translate to the stage the visual language of the film -- hyper-stylized imagery, oddball non sequiturs, fantastical special effects -- the creators end up tripping over themselves and losing sight of the story. Even if you've seen the film and know the plot, this "Amelie" comes off as muddled and often baffling.
The only thing remotely Parisian about "Amelie" is the use of a bilious shade of green reminiscent of the outdoor pissoirs one used to see all over Paris. Hardly the image to take away from this musical-theater adaptation of the quirky 2001 film that brought goofy grins to the faces of besotted movie fans. As Amelie, Phillipa Soo ("Hamilton") is no Audrey Tautou. But the star is so bland here, she's not even Phillipa Soo. More than helpful, it's almost mandatory to have seen the movie if you hope to follow the erratic events of Craig Lucas's twee book. David Zinn's surreal set captures Amelie's quirky perspective on life in general, but the Dada-esque views of the city convey little of particular Paris scenes. We could be almost anywhere.
Matching the film's cast of eccentric characters, the talented performers are undermined by a diet of forced preciousness. And Adam Chanler-Berat is fine as the romantic lead, but it's tiresome watching how long it takes him and Amelie to finally hook up.
Even if you haven't seen the 2001 film, there are grave impediments to enjoying this show. You may well raise your eyebrows at the moment Amélie takes it upon herself to "help" a blind man, but removing his cane from him, throwing his beggar's cup away, and totally disorientating him by swirling him past a new set of urban landmarks. Then she leaves him stranded, a new world that she is introducing him to. It's supposed to be charming. It looks horrifying.