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Review: AMELIE THE MUSICAL, Criterion Theatre

Absolutely delightful and thoroughly magical.

Review: AMELIE THE MUSICAL, Criterion Theatre

Review: AMELIE THE MUSICAL, Criterion Theatre Twenty years ago, the world fell in love with a quirky young woman by the name of Amélie Poulain. The French waitress stuck in her own little universe slowly starts to help people find their happiness, finally reaching hers. The stone-skipping and crème brûlée-cracking character played by Audrey Tautou immediately charmed her way into popular culture and by 2015 Daniel Messé, Nathan Tysen, and Craig Lucas had adapted Jean-Pierre Jeunet's beloved film into a stage musical with Samantha Barks and Phillipa Soo both taking the titular role at different times in the US.

The director Michael Fentiman's homegrown production premiered at the Watermill Theatre back in 2019 with French-Canadian actress Audrey Brisson as the peculiar girl. After a UK tour, a Christmas run at The Other Palace, and nominations for both Olivier and Grammy Awards, Amélie has finally landed in the West End.

Fentiman's take on the material is drastically different from Pam MacKinnon's American adaptation. He reshapes the company dynamic, opting for an actor-muso approach instead of having a separate orchestra. This core element perfectly translates the bustling nature of the Parisian setting visually and acoustically. More than a dozen musicians deliver the folk-infused score, which is a joy to the ear.

This essential ingredient, however, slightly hinders the isolation and alienation of the original characters. The cast crowd the space, leaving Amélie's solitude to the imagination rather than building an observable representation of her state of mind. Anyway, the show is, as a whole, absolutely delightful and thoroughly magical.

Madeleine Girling's set design offers a symmetrical, chic frame that romanticises a bygone Paris. The vintage, wistful feel comes through with the opaque greens and gold finishings of an old Métro combined with the quaint, red-checkered tablecloths of a French café.

The mystical vibes continue throughout the musical with singing fish and haunting human-sized figs that give Johnson Willis's mean grocer Collignon a Proustian awakening. Amélie herself is hoisted up to her cosy apartment in the upper-stage area by grabbing a lampshade (a sly nod to Brisson's past as a member of Cirque du Soleil). As far as the surreal traits of the production go, Caolan McCarthy's stint as Elton John is certainly one for the history books.

It's perhaps this balancing act between the grounded, human celebration of the appreciation of the small things in our everyday lives and the absurd, absolutely over-the-top outbursts that makes Amélie this fabulous. The insanely talented, multi-instrumentalist cast deliver impeccable performances that result in joyful numbers and heartbreaking ballads.

"Will there be time to keep on dreaming when the dream is over?" muse Brisson and Chris Jared's Nino - Amélie's kooky love interest - in the show's finale "Where Do We Go From Here?" The fantasy ends after roughly two-and-a-half hours, and the audience is left to leave the theatre with hearts full of bliss. The pandemic and various lockdowns have taught us a lot, and Amélie reveals anew the importance of friendship and sisterhood, and that happiness can be found in the most unassuming places - and people.

Amélie The Musical runs at the Criterion Theatre until 25 September.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography

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