Review - Amelie at The Other Palace
I saw the original short-lived production of Amélie, a musical version of the 2001 French film, when it premiered on Broadway in 2017 - and ran for just seven weeks. The review I wrote at the time described it as telling "a tenderly-drawn, small story, but it feels out of place amid the bombard and bigger effects that Broadway usually trades in"; it was "sweet and full of charm but it makes no lasting impression."
But transplanted across the Atlantic now in a beautiful, tenderly aching and entrancing production that was originally seen at Newbury's intimate Watermill Theatre earlier this summer, it feels like it has undergone a complete transformation. Just as, across the show's two-hour traffic, its titular heroine does, too, from a delicate vulnerability and aloneness to being ready to share her life with someone. I barely recognised what I was seeing or hearing.
Yes, a little whimsy sometimes goes a long way; but here in Michael Fentiman's perfectly judged production, there's wit in abundance and also some necessary grit, too. It's partly a question of scale and partly of expectation: on Madeleine Girling's gorgeous set of the Paris bistro in which works, with little hideaway set pieces for her apartment (that she usually accesses by being hoist aloft to it by a lampshade), a photo booth and her neighbour's apartment, this slice of Paris life comes alive. Some of the set is even contained within the two onstage pianos, too.
The music, too, has been re-arranged by musical supervisor Barnaby Race, with additional orchestrations by musical director Samuel Wilson, for the company of actor-musicians to perform themselves, and it gives the score a bracing and enticing immediacy. If it sometimes brought to mind Once, the 2012 Broadway musical version of another offbeat film about two people being brought unexpectedly together, that's a plus: I loved that show, too.
The original film was not to all tastes - reviewing the original production of this musicalisation for the New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote that it "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!")."
This production could similarly divide audiences, but cute is replaced here by quirky, as goldfish, garden gnomes and even figs come to singing life, and there's even an appearance by Elton John at Princess Diana's funeral thrown in.
Audrey Brisson is a charming delight in the title role amidst a hard-working ensemble of actor-musicians in a show that I sense I could become addicted to. I am already planning a return visit.
Amélie is at The Other Palace until 1st February.
Amélie tickets are available now.