Review - Amour at the Charing Cross Theatre
I'm going out on a limb here with my five-star rating for the UK premiere of Michel Legrand and Jeremy Sams's wistful, witty Amour (all-too-briefly seen on Broadway in 2002), as I'm certain that for others it will be a show they can't bear.
It's likely to be a Marmite show - not a show for all tastes. Nor for all markets: in a programme note, Sams writes of the challenges of adapting (and expanding) its original French source material -a bonne mouche, as he calls it - that had originally been staged in a Paris fringe theatre into a full-scale Broadway show. "And thus we moved away from the superb operetta texts by the peerless poet Didier Van Cauwelaert to something more Broadway-ish." It opened in October 2002, and closed two weeks later. Sams acknowledges: "It wasn't, after all, a Broadway show (despite being nominated for five Tony Awards)."
But some shows are not meant for the bright neon lights of Broadway, but by the flickering gaslight of somewhere more intimate. And so it has now arrived in the subterranean embrace of the Charing Cross Theatre, now reconfigured in traverse (as it was for its last production Violet), where it fits like an elegant glove.
I absolutely adored it in all its warm eccentricity and sublime oddity. The late, great Michel Legrand (who passed away in late January) scored around 250 films in his long career, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (ill-fatedly adapted as a West End musical by Emma Rice), The Thomas Crown Affair (which earned him his first Oscar for the now-evergreen The Windmills of Your Mind) and Barbra Streisand's film Yentl (another Oscar winner for him).
He has written another insinuatingly melodic score for Amour, which pulses with romantic yearnings and unresolved conflicts between heart and head, as a downtrodden office clerk escapes into a kind of fantasy world in which he can walk through walls and is turned into a romantic hero, prising an unhappily married woman away from her husband and acting as a Robin Hood figure, making the world a fairer place. It's not too dissimilar to Man of La Mancha, currently being revived in London at the Coliseum, but instead of being full of bombast, over-inflated emotion and bad singing, Hannah Chissick's lovingly and lovely low-key production is full of warmth and wit.
It is galvanised by the delicate and deft choreography of Matt Cole, which creates a tapestry of movement that keeps it from stalling in a state of whimsy. And the utterly convincing performances of Gary Tushaw - a man stunned by his own transformation from one of life's zeros to a hero - and especially the shimmering-voiced Anna O'Byrne as the woman he falls in love with, bring it to radiant life. They are surrounded by a supporting cast, mostly playing multiple characters that includes Claire Machin as a hilarious old-time prostitute, that constantly delight. Special kudos, too, to Jordan Li-Smith's six-strong band, perched on the balcony above the stage, for their unobtrusively elegant playing.
The show may be about a man walking through walls, but I was walking through air as I left the theatre.
Amour tickets are available now.
Photo credit: Scott Rylander