When I found out that the iconic French film Amélie was being adapted for the stage in musical form, I was concerned. This is one of my favorite foreign films and it is dynamic for many reasons. The vivid, swift style of cinematography is an active story-teller, bringing the character Amélie’s humorously tragic, yet hopeful history to life. Each character has a quirky, dark, comical attribute, yet the spirit of love is alive though the talent and distinct beauty of the actors who portray them. These did not seem like the type of characters to burst into song, but I am always curious and open to watching a playwright or director’s interpretation of a well-known (or otherwise) story unfold on stage.
In the pre-Broadway opening of Amélie: A New Musical at the Ahmanson Theatre, it would seem as though my concerns were fulfilled. Starring Hamilton headliner Phillipa Soo in the title role, the show seemed like the most Broadway-safe production of Amélie that could have been created, but I guess financially that is the point. I suppose that for such a dynamic film, I was hoping for a more visionary or groundbreaking theatrical approach.
One of the reasons this story works as a film is that we are able to deal with many plot points, often simultaneously because of the quick cuts and transitions on screen. On stage, since this is a much more intimate experience, since we are there with the living, breathing actors, it just seemed like there was a lot going on and not enough time to earn the moments or conclusions to each mini mystery. In the film it works, on stage it did not.
Not surprisingly, Soo is the highlight of this production. Two friends of mine that had already seen the show told me that they couldn’t help but imagine Soo singing her role in Hamilton while watching her as Amélie from their fourth row seats. At first I thought this was a bit naive, but I found myself doing the exact same thing on opening night. Her voice is so incredibly gorgeous, that you can’t help but try and imagine her singing a better song. In a recent NPR interview, director Pam MacKinnon commented that Soo had originally been workshopping this production when she was given the opportunity to workshop Hamilton. The show is going to Broadway in March and yes, she will probably receive a Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. But once again, she won’t win. Because although she is amazingly talented, she had no opportunity to prove herself in this production: no emotionally taxing transformation, no complex physical choreography, and no money note. This show is too easy for her.
It wasn’t until the musical was almost over, and I was severely craving for it to pull-through in a deeper, Frencher way, that I realized something about Amélie. This is a story about an awkward waitress and a boy who works in a sex shop, not because he wants to or because his career lies in this area of interest, but because it provides him financial means. This is a story about two regular, probably struggling, people trying to find love and each other. Amélie sees the world through different eyes which is what makes the story fanciful, dark, humorous and fun. I wish the musical had made me feel that more, but this was more of something I recalled on just by putting the plot pieces together.
What does this show make me want to change about myself? For me at least, the big take away of the show is that we must not be afraid to face new things in life that may seem scary to us, whether that be talking to a crush, transitioning to a new home, letting go of a comfort object or moving forward past grief from a death. The play makes me want to take more risks in communication, with people I know, people I meet, people I want to meet and people I may be interested in romantically. It’s exhilarating and frightening just thinking about it! Here’s a personal example. I met a boy, another writer for a local paper, at a friend’s birthday party over the weekend. Then the other night on a solo outing to the theatre, I saw him again and greeted him by name. He was surprised to see me, and so it would seem nervous from the onset, but we ended up sitting together, talking together and talking after the show as well. I couldn’t help but wonder: if I had been seated next to him, having not met him at the birthday, would I have talked to him? Probably not. Would he have talked to me? Certainly not. But this same fear is the conflict Amélie faces throughout her entire story. Embarrassment and rejection are daunting. But, you will truly never know what will happen unless you try. I suppose the show succeeds in driving these themes somewhat, but I think could also be me recalling on the film.
Although this was not one of the better musicals I’ve seen, I wonder if I would feel differently if I had never seen the film before. Amélie: A New Musical runs at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles December 4 through January 15. It will continue on its Broadway run at the Walter Kerr Theatre on March 9, 2017.