BWW Review: AMELIE THE MUSICAL, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Almost twenty years after she charmed hearts on the big screen, Amélie is taking to the stage in a bid to change lives and spread joy in the smallest of ways, with the biggest of hearts.
After some time spent in America, Amélie the Musical is now on British soil for its UK premiere. The creatives behind the musical - Craig Lucas, Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen - worked on three iterations of the musical's run in the US, but have taken on the challenge to modify the show even further for their UK audience, aiming to bring even more of the film back into the production and emphasising its Parisian disposition.
Presented by Hartshorn - Hook Productions and Selladoor Productions, in association with The Watermill Theatre and Broadway Asia, this theatrical version has been designed to hold its own, while still drawing from its origins. It pays homage to the iconic movie which will be much-loved by many in the audience, while finding space as a story and experience in its own right.
However, many will also be relieved to know that no prior knowledge of the film is necessary in order to fall in love with this very special, spirited production.
Set in 1990's Paris, the story follows the cautious and fanciful Amélie as she tries to make a difference to other peoples' lives, and ends up changing her own path. She's a woman who has grown up in her own little world; with a strange and sheltered upbringing having rendered relationships tricky, she finds herself determined to bring happiness and delight to the people who surround her.
Eventually, her curious endeavours lead her to her own potential romance; but so focused she is on fixing the lives of others, she struggles to lean in and learn to find love for herself.
This musical has a substantial and extremely talented cast which completely takes over the stage and delivers some truly exquisite performances, both individually and en masse.
Audrey Brisson is an astonishing Amélie. She offers a sharp, charming performance, making this much-adored character her own. With a powerful voice and determined disposition (which gives away to cheekiness every so often), she is irresistible, and a joy to watch.
Danny Mac is enigmatic and brooding as Nino. His chemistry with Brisson is enthralling and the similarities between these two unusual characters are crystal clear through their on-stage interactions.
Caolan McCarthy (Hipolito/Elton John), Kate Robson-Stuart (Suzanne), and Sophie Crawford (Gina) also give excellent performances; but it is a challenge to single out specific members of the cast, as they are all so integral to the success of this production.
The cast is also responsible for the music, playing all their own instruments and filling the theatre with sound. These instruments become as much a part of each character as their costumes, mannerisms and props. They create such a deliciously Parisian atmosphere, with accordions and violins and flutes bringing this fanciful story to life even more.
What is a musical without a score to impress? The soundtrack to this story is as gorgeous as the staging thanks to Daniel Messé (music and lyrics) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics), as well as George Francis (Musical Director) and Barnaby Race (Musical Supervisor and Arrangements).
Each song captures the different moments in the production superbly. "Halfway" and "The sound of going round in circles" particularly stand out. From uplifting harmonies and choruses with soul, to delicate duets and solos that cause the heart to swell, this is a musical which sweeps you up in the moment and brims with emotion. There is a genuineness to the music; simple, home-grown and from the heart.
This isn't a musical with epic solos and big opening numbers; it's down-to-earth and (much like its protagonist) unassumingly tender, with a little vim and vigour added for good measure.
The magic and whimsy of Amélie's life are also visually translated onto the stage with a beautiful set. Designed by Madeleine Girling, with lighting by Elliot Griggs, we are transported into an idealised, fairytale version of Paris. Largely unmoving, the set is rich and cinematic, and is in itself a work of art. Secret compartments, hidden treasures and unexpected surprises make this the perfect backdrop for Amélie's story.
This playfulness also appears in the form of delightful puppetry, fanciful dream-sequences and erotic allusions which bring lightness, humour and surreality to the production. "There's no place like gnome" and "Collignon's nightmare" are both examples of songs that, despite their peculiarity, are not out of place in this musical. In Amélie's world, anything goes.
There is no doubt that this show is a curious and whimsical exploration of human loneliness and love. It whisks you up in its romantic bohemian world of eccentrics and introverts: the circus performer, the glass man, the gnome, and the hypochondriac. There's a multitude of small stories within the overarching plot - each member of the cast has their moment, and their own story to tell - but it always comes back to Amélie.
This is a truly beautiful, moving and enchanting production which combines whimsy and magic with genuine, relatable emotion.
Amélie the Musical isn't a production that will burst onto the stage and profoundly change your life; instead, much like its small-but-mighty hero, it will sneak into your world, reach out, and stay with you long after the figurative curtain falls.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography