Back in 2001, the quirky French-language film Amélie was released. (You can buy the DVD from Amazon here – affiliate link) A whimsical story of a shy dreamer living in the bustling metropolis of Paris. This musical adaptation, directed by Michael Fentiman, brings the surreal world inside of Amélie’s head to audiences around the UK before heading for a West End run at the end of the year.
**We were invited to attend the Amélie press night by the Alexandra Theatre. We received complimentary tickets and a glass of prosseco or two in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts – as always – are my own. And occasionally those of Mr Fletche**
Immediately we are sucked into Amélie’s world, with flashing lights, misty air and then an incredible explosion of orchestral music. We are introduced to Amélie (Audrey Brisson), a naïve and lonely waitress who finds joy in secretly performing small acts of kindness to those around her. A series of vignettes show the extraordinary impact this ordinary girl has on the lives of others. And eventually, she has the chance of finding her own happiness after a chance encounter with a similarly quirky soul, a handsome young man called Nino (Danny Mac). She sets out to find him, but nothing is straightforward in Amélie’s world.
The show cleverly retains the whimsicality of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s visually inventive film. Madeleine Girling’s imaginative two-story set design transforms easily from café to metro station to bustling Paris. Elliott Griggs uses effective lighting, from conveying the warmth of Amélie’s apartment to the cool feel of a train rushing through. And the movement around the stage is simply mesmerising at times, beautifully choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves. And Amélie wouldn’t be Amélie without the gimmicks – the travelling gnome, figs of nightmares, an array of multi-coloured dildos and yes, Elton John.
The production shines with its use of ensemble of performers who act, sing, dance and provide the on-stage music. These actor-musicians are often playing dual roles and work tirelessly to provide support to the two leading performers. They also play the part of narrators, providing exposition, and seamlessly moving the story between scenes. At times all 16 cast members are on the stage, yet it never feels too much. Kate Robson-Stuart (Suzanne), Jez Unwin (Raphael/Bretodeau) and Johnson Willis (Collignon/Dufayel), particularly stand out, Willis in particular for his duet “The Girl with the Glass” with Amélie.
But it’s Audrey Brisson and Danny Mac that shine the brightest. French-Canadian Brisson makes a worthy successor to Audrey Tatou as the titular character. She is immensely watchable, and perfectly portrays the sweetness of Amélie without being annoyingly quirky. She sings beautifully, and on Times Are Hard for Dreamers and Stay her voice rings sharp and clear around the theatre.
Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing alumni Mac is wonderfully charming as Nino. He has a warm stage presence, great vocals and of course, dazzling good looks. It’s easy to see why Amélie risks her simple, lonely life to pursue romance. Together they portray this sweet relationship superbly, building up to a heartwarming embrace in the final scenes which leave the audience mesmerised. In fact, not a peep can be heard during this beautiful scene.
The production is largely sung through, with Daniel Messé and Nathen Tysen providing the music and lyrics. The score, despite being completely unfamiliar, perfectly epitomises the Parisian setting and suits the pace of the show. Standouts include the first-half finale “Goodbye, Amélie“and “Stay“, the duet between Amélie and Nino that we’ve all been waiting for.
(The original Broadway soundtrack is available on Amazon here – affiliate link)
This is a delightful, imaginatively staged, impeccably told, exquisitely performed story. It’s pensive and whimsical; comical in places; and downright enchanting. And Mr Fletche declared it better than Hamilton. Which is some accolade.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to watch the Amélie UK Tour. Amelie runs at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 27th July. You can book your tickets here. It continues touring until October – for the full tour schedule click here. The show will also transfer to London’s The Other Palace from November 29th 2019 through till February 1st 2020.
All production photos by Pamela Raith Photography, used with permission