BWW Review: AMOUR, Charing Cross Theatre
What is it that makes a night at the theatre truly magical? Sure it's a bit of this, a bit of that (and a huge amount of effort and skill of course), but mostly it's that indefinable transporting to another world. Not the violence and conflict of cinema's CGI-ridden blockbuster alternate universes, but a place in one's heart, a place of wonder, a place of warmth.
Amour does that. For a couple of hours, fantasy flies and the outside world fades. It's musical theatre that may not convert too many sceptics, but it will please fans like few other shows this year.
Dusoleil is a milquetoast clerk who works hard and goes home to his apartment in a sordid Paris arrondissement not yet recovered from the graft and deceit the locals developed to survive the war. He's in love with Isabelle, but she's locked up by her martinet of a husband, the corrupt prosecutor (yes, like Johanna was locked away by Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd).
One day, he discovers that he can walk through walls and, after a crisis of conscience provoked by stealing a baguette from a locked up bakery, decides to swipe jewellery from the wealthy and give it to the poor. He is, of course, lionised by them for his munificence, a cause célèbre for the sans-culottes - and a threat to the fragile status quo.
But he wants Isabelle and owns up in order to catch her attention. Things move on quite quickly now...
Director Hannah Chissack works miracles on the tight traverse stage (what a difference that makes to sightlines and, especially, the sound in this theatre) and is rewarded with wonderful performances from her ensemble cast.
Gary Tushaw perfectly captures Dusoleil's transformation, never losing his shy charm even as he becomes the Wall-Man, Passepartout, hero of the Parisian poor, and his scenes with the always splendid Anna O'Byrne are a romantic's delight.
The principals get super support from the rest of the cast, with Claire Machin tremendous as the inevitable tart with a heart and understudy Jack Reitman hilarious as the dissolute doctor on the night I saw the play.
Tying the whole thing together are the words of English adapter Jeremy Sams and France's nonpareil musician. Michel Legrand. Sams likes a pun or two (there's one in the title of course) but his lyrics fizz like Dom Pérignon, reminding me of Stephen Sondheim at his most playful.
As for Legrand's tunes (some in collaboration with Sams), well they have something of Sondheim's complexity / opacity, the music washing over you, absent obvious hooks mostly, but as fully engaged in storytelling as the words sung. The best songs are "Other People's Stories" and "Dusoleil in Jail" - but this score is a scented bath in gorgeous tunes, given full value by Jordan Li-Smith's band.
In the 70s, Legrand was never off the television, his easy listening stuff anathema to those of us listening to the political anger of The Clash and the working class wit of Madness. But one gets older and one watches Les Parapluies De Cherbourg (which gets a few nods in this show) and his genius becomes apparent.
To analyse a production like this into its components is to fail to capture its appeal - it is more, much more, than the sum of its parts. It has no bombast, no epic arcs, no showstopping divaish set pieces - which is probably why it didn't last long on Broadway 15 years ago.
But now? Its fabulous tale, its luscious music, its clever lyrics all delivered with such understated verve, is exactly what's needed. Literally delightful.
Photo Scott Rylander